Month: August 2012

Let the Games Begin: A Reevaluation of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games

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A couple years ago, I wrote a scathing review of the American remake of Michael Haneke’s thriller Funny Games (which will henceforth be known as Funny Games US). The brilliant performances from Tim Roth and Naomi Watts as poor rich people being tortured by a couple of lunatics played by Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet notwithstanding, its smugness and overt message condemning audiences for enjoying sadistic violence was a major turn off. It was a task sitting through it, an absolute nightmare in a way. But, you could say, Haneke achieved his goal. However, after avoiding Haneke’s films for a bit, and not bothering to watch the original 1997 Austrian film, I decided once and for all to delve into the Austrian director’s work. After watching Cache, The Piano Teacher, and The White Ribbon, I decided, because I loved the ambiguity, intensity, and subversiveness of those films, I’d give the original Funny Games a go. I was not, however, expecting much. Haneke’s 2007 Funny Games US was a shot for shot remake of his original film, only in English and with new actors. Having explored Haneke’s work a bit more thoroughly and having grown more mature in my tastes, not only does Haneke rank amongst my new favorite directors (subsection: “provocateur”, next to Lars von Trier), I’ve had a change of heart about both Funny Games. That does not, however mean that I love the film, or even like it more than I did. It’s honestly hard to make up one’s mind about a film that has so much fun and takes so much pleasure in serving up a wretched dish to its audience in such a knowing way. Nevertheless, I do appreciate it more than I did. But why? Well…

All in the Family

Michael Haneke has a lot to say about things. Just things in general. And while his opinion of the upper middle class and the bourgeoisie doesn’t occupy the viewer’s mind for long, due to, um, other events, what he says is just as scathing as his message about violence (which is what I will get to later). Only a certain kind of people would play a music game in the car by quizzing one another on what operatic piece is playing. Is it Mahler? No, Wagner. Or maybe… This version of fun and games certainly occupies the mainstream music listener, but as casual as the family in the film does it (in the Austrian film, the parents are played by Susanne Lothar and Ullrich Muhe), there very act itself reeks of pretension. Haneke gives us a close up of the dozen or so CDs in the car, and while the family enjoys their ride with their expensive boat to their expensive lake house, Haneke cuts short the elegiac bliss and drowns the audiences ears’ in what could be assumed to be screamo. This harsh juxtaposition is like a scale. Opera is considered one of the high arts; screamo, within most circles, is usually written off by “that kind of people” as “noise”. But within the mainstream circle, both would be ignored; thus the scale. They’re both two extremes of the same medium. (I bet if Haneke had waited a few years to remake his film, he might use Skrillex.)

When the family get to their lake house, they enter through a gate, a clear sign that these people are not the ninety-nine percent. But that gate seems to hint at the fact that their lake house not only gates them from, you know, strangers, but gates their lives off from other people. Their lives seem so insular with that gate in place. Their lake house doesn’t look like a nice little cottage by the lake. It looks like a two story house. That you live in. Another spit in the face. While Haneke may be smarmy about the upper class, he has a lot more headed for them than they could ever expect.

The Fabulous Sociopathic Boys

The boys look like clean cut gold caddies in a way, which is a little ironic. They do not look completely out of place in the large, wealthy lake houses they break into, but they also don’t look like they were born there or were there in the first place. These sociopaths, though, are your worst nightmare. Not only because they relish the great violence and torture they cause, but because they look “just like you”, albeit younger and maybe snarkier. A lot of horror films stress the “it could be your neighbor” element, but with very little purpose other than hypothetical paranoia in comparison to these two psychopaths. Haneke seems to be saying, “They are your neighbors. And you know why? Because the media has created them.” I mean, where else would they have gotten the ideas for the sick games they play from other than video games, the news, and, yes, the movies.

Even their dialogue has the bounce and rhythm of other writers, like Hawks and Hecht, the banter resembling kind of a slash version of Bringing Up Baby. They’re fairly young, so they are the target audience. They are, essentially, you. Yes, my friends, Haneke is making the audience the culprit. And how he relishes doing that. I am not sure, however, whether or not he enjoys the game itself or the players more.

The Savagery

As “torturous” of an experience it is to watch Funny Games, most of the violence is suggested. And yet that still doesn’t seem to help. The violence is, perhaps, the most interesting aspect of the film. Even though most of the violence happens off screen, the audience still squirms even though they aren’t watching Hostel or Saw or even Oldboy. And yet they salivate and yearn, unsatisfied with only hearing the screams from the mother, the groans from the father, and the whimpers from their child. Not only that, but here, the violence is real. Or it seems real, too real. Subverting audience expectation is something I’ve become accustomed to when it comes to Haneke. With the ridiculousness of torture porn, it seems so outrageous that it’s just a gross out cliché. However, these so-called funny games are ones that are probably more emotionally savage than physically. Yes, the father’s knee cap is basically hammered in by a 9-iron, but the mother must play “The Loving Wife”. This game involves poor Anna, where she must recite a prayer forward and backwards (clearly mocking religion) flawlessly or her husband will be killed (either with the gun or the knife; it’s her choice). And another game, where she has to undress herself. And another game, where they put the son’s head in a canvas sack. These aren’t just random, elaborate torture devices Jigsaw would use, but truly terribly, emotionally and spiritually scarring tasks that are so diabolical because they are so incredibly simple. It’s all in the simplicity of the thing, and simplicity serves up the realism in a large portion. Why don’t they just kill them? As one of the boys says, “You can’t forget the importance of entertainment.”

However, the problem I had with the films lies in the violence itself, and it isn’t just the violence that makes the film interesting, but also its presentation. These are horrible things happening to good people. And Haneke, all the while, enjoys this. He enjoys seeing his audience both repulsed and gripped by such acts of terror. And what he’s saying, obviously, is that we are terrible people for loving it so much and for loving violence so much. The games are real, and Haneke is playing a game on the audience, not just with this upper class family. But because he enjoys it so much, doesn’t that make him just as complicit as his audience? Isn’t Haneke just as guilty of the loathsome enjoyment of violence as we are, or as any fan of horror? How does on reconcile smugness with what is clearly a grippingly and fascinatingly terrifying film? In his other films, he explores people under pressure, just as he does here, but in other situations. Someone is watching a family; someone wants to act on sexual fantasies after years of repression; more brutal things are happening but in a small German town. But with those films, as subtle as he may or may not be, depending from film to film, there isn’t as much of the impression that he is plainly slapping you in the face and laughing all the while. He subverts audience expectation, but he does not go out of his way to rub it in the audience’s faces. He makes the audience a culprit in voyeurism, but you don’t realize it until after, unlike Funny Games where you clearly know what’s going on, why, and by whom. I guess the ability to forgive Haneke for this arrogance and, I hate to say it, pretension will vary from person to person. I, for one, am still on the fence.

Smashing Down Fourth Wall

Breaking the fourth wall is an act of intrusiveness. It takes you out of the escapism and makes the experience of whatever is going on very immediate. It sometimes is used as a way to connect to the audience and to familiarize the audience with a character’s voice, like Alvy Singer in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, but here, the fourth wall is knocked down partly out of smugness and partly, once again, to show how reckless and tasteless of a society we’ve become. The two sociopaths every so often wink or talk directly to the audience, which seems unorthodox. Generally, you would think that if a character were to break the fourth wall, it would be one we could either connect to or root for. However, because the thesis of Funny Games is mostly “condemn the audience” and because the sociopaths are an extreme incarnation of “us”, Haneke subverts the aforementioned cliché, making us identify, unwillingly, to the torturers. Although villains certainly have broken the fourth wall in the past, it’s not usually in as much of a self-conscious way, and when they do, it’s because they have appeal and they are the villain we kind of love or love to hate. They are our id that we don’t mind acknowledging. The sociopaths, however, reveal a side of human nature that’s more terrible than we want to admit. Haneke’s other films have explored, to some extent, the terrible things humans can do, but Funny Games rings more poisonous because we don’t want to identify that we could do these kinds of things. We barely even want to acknowledge that there’s a preening yuppie in all of us, never mind our ability to rake a gold club and whack someone with it. Generally, it’s Lars von Trier who likes to slap society in the face with his art films, blatantly but in an expert way. Just look at his biting allegory of America in Dogville and Manderlay. Haneke has no trouble, however, doing that as well.

The painful thing is that these boys control this environment. Not only do the break the fourth wall, they also break the laws of reality. In one scene, where the mother takes a lone shotgun by the coffee table and kills one of the sociopaths, the other searches everywhere he can for the remote control. When he finds it, he pushes rewind, and like a videocassette, the events are rewound and then play is hit. This time, he knows what she’s going to grab for. In this way, it’s extremely frustrating to watch this film. If the villains have the control, why bother watching if there’s no hope for these people? And why, as a matter of fact, do we keep watching after that happens? Again, Haneke points out our blood lust as well as our tolerance for violence.

TV Killed…

One chilling image is of a lone television screen displaying a NASCAR race or something like it. Pedestrian though it may be, the television screen is covered and dripping in blood. This image stays on the screen for probably thirty seconds or maybe longer. What’s the point? The desensitization of society. We, as a world culture, have gotten so used to seeing violent images in films, games, the news, TV shows, etc. that it is completely commonplace. Blood seems a little out of place for a motor car race, but that’s the point. No matter how out of place the blood would be, we would still be used to it, barely even phased by its presence. This, I feel, is the most chilling, and most accurate, statement that Haneke makes in the film.

The Circle of Life and Death

At the end of the film, it’s revealed that the boys came directly from the neighbors next door, whom they’d been torturing. And after they’re done with this family, they’re going to start right back up with another. As one of the boys approaches, asking for eggs (a sign from before that the games are about to begin), we understand that it’s all just a vicious circle. That point being that violence, both in the natural world as well as the audience’s compliance, is cyclical. While stopping by your neighbors and torturing them is hardly normal, the dark side of human nature, however, is. In a way, the end, signaling the beginning, is almost like Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, a novel that expounds upon the cyclical nature of revenge and love. Horror films will be made, audiences will go in droves, the feast will continue, and begin again the next time. It’s an unpleasant thought, but true nonetheless. Atrocities will occur in the real word, people will watch the news in shock and awe, and then something else will happen garnering similar coverage and, of course, similar ratings.

All in the Shot for Shot

One could say that making one Funny Games, the Austrian one, is bad enough. But, eye rolls must commence when a foreign film gets an American remake. From the disgustingly sappy City of Angels remade from Wim Wender’s existential symphony Wings of Desire to the remake of Godard’s Breathless by Jim McBride, American remakes of foreign films usually garner scorn and bad reviews. (Not always though, for every failure there’s a Magnificent Seven or Let Me In or even The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.) However, Funny Games US is directed by Haneke himself. What’s more, it’s a shot for shot remake, meaning that every shot from his 1997 film is duplicated here. Unnecessary? That may be up to you, but in remaking Funny Games, he took a film that had pretty much world wide appeal and then focused it, aiming it directly at Americans. For, who else than we to come up with something as gruesome as The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left, and, of course, Saw? And who other than Americans to make Saw a franchise. One film may have one thing, but seven. What kind of people are we? It’s been noted that our rating system is harsher on sex than violence, while the ratings board in Europe is harsher on violence. Why is that? Why are we so okay with seeing violence? It might be a part of human nature, but what’s with all the reveling and “okay-ness” about it. There are video games, which are an easy target (no pun intended). The thing about the US is that we are slowly losing are ability to truly differentiate between fantasy and reality, especially regarding violence. Violence in film is getting more real, and violence in reality is becoming more prolific and ubiquitous.

But I haven’t addressed the shot for shot thing. In 1998, Gus van Sant remade Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho pretty much shot for shot. He said he did it “so no one would have to”. The point also was that duplicating every scene and every shot would not create a perfect replica of the original. Even if you like van Sant’s Psycho, there is no denying it is a lesser film in comparison to Hitchcock’s. Even though, it’s basically the same thing. When Haneke is remaking his film, not only is he basically articulating the same thing, but he also seems to be making a small statement on American remakes of foreign films. While he may not be ushering Park Chan-wook to take the reigns over from Spike Lee for the new Oldboy remake, he does seem to say that American remakes are, essentially, lazy and generally not exercises of artistry or creativity (again, exceptions notwithstanding, like A Fistful of Dollars). Learn to read subtitles and get over yourselves. But, who knows? Maybe Kurosawa will rise from the grave, destroy all prints of The Outrage and remake Rashomon himself.

Conclusion: Which is Better?

To me, it doesn’t really matter. Although the Austrian original has more of a worldwide appeal with its content, I’ve become fond of having America getting told off through art. The performances in both films are outstanding and so painful to watch, they are what give the film the most potency. They are both technically proficient, of course, with long takes and static shots. But because they are shot for shot, they kind of blend together in the mind from time to time. The biggest thing I can say to you is see at least one of them. It doesn’t particularly matter which (thus the main failure on Haneke’s point, for neither are terribly distinctive enough to differentiate a whole hell of a lot). While the films may be smug in their condemnation of a sector of society that kind of enjoys this stuff, the potency of its message, its presentation, and execution are pretty flawless. It’s a horror film that creates real fear that the average slasher can’t. It seduces you in the most despicable way, seemingly to prove its very point. It makes you relinquish control completely from the situation. It makes your identify with terrible people. And, yes, it plays minds games with you. You know, Funny Games.

Watch and See – My Top 101 Films: The Complete List

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  1. 12 Angry Men/Anatomy of a Murder (1957/1959) | Directed by Sidney Lumet/Otto Preminger
  2. The 400 Blows (1959) | Directed by François Truffaut
  3. A Christmas Story (1983) | Directed by Bob Clark
  4. Alien/Aliens (1979/1986) | Directed by Ridley Scott/James Cameron
  5. Annie Hall (1977) | Directed by Woody Allen
  6. Army of Shadows  (1969) | Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville
  7. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) | Directed by Frank Capra
  8. La Belle et la Bête (1946) | Directed by Jean Cocteau
  9. Being John Malkovich (1999) | Directed by Spike Jonze
  10. Bicycle Thieves (1948) | Directed by Vittorio De Sica
  11. The Big Lebowski (1996) | Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
  12. Black Swan (2010) | Directed by Darren Aronofsky
  13. Blue Valentine (2010) | Directed by Derek Cianfrance
  14. Brick (2005) | Directed by Rian Johnson
  15. Bride of Frankenstein (1935) | Directed by James Whale
  16. Bringing Up Baby*  (1938) | Directed by Howard Hawks
  17. Burn After Reading (2008) | Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
  18. Cabaret (1972) | Directed by Bob Fosse
  19. The Cabin in the Woods (2012) | Directed by Drew Goddard
  20. Casablanca* (1942) | Directed by Michael Curtiz
  21. Casino Royale* (2006) | Directed by Martin Campbell
  22. Cast Away (2000) | Directed by Robert Zemeckis
  23. Charade (1963) | Directed by Stanley Donen
  24. Chungking Express (1994) | Directed by Wong Kar-Wai
  25. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) | Directed by Steven Spielberg
  26. Clue (1985) | Directed by Jonathan Lynn
  27. Dancer in the Dark (2000) | Directed by Lars von Trier
  28. Death Proof (2007) | Directed by Quentin Tarantino
  29. The Devil Wears Prada (2006) | Directed by David Frankel
  30. Diabolique (1955) | Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
  31. District 9 (2009) | Directed by Neill Blomkamp
  32. Dogville (2005) | Directed by Lars von Trier
  33. Down with Love (2003) | Directed by Peyton Reed
  34. Dr. No (1962) | Directed by Terrence Young
  35. Drive (2011) | Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
  36. Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) | Directed by Ang Lee
  37. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) | Directed by Michel Gondry
  38. The Exorcist (1973) | Directed by William Friedkin
  39. Fanny and Alexander* (1982) | Directed by Ingmar Bergman
  40. Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 (1940/2000) | Directed by Walt Disney/Roy E. Disney
  41. Fargo (1996) Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
  42. GoldenEye (1995) | Directed by Martin Campbell
  43. In the Loop (2009) | Directed by Armando Iannucci
  44. Kill Bill (2003/2004) | Directed by Quentin Tarantino
  45. King Kong (2005) | Directed by Peter Jackson
  46. Kuroneko (1968) | Directed by Kaneto Shindo
  47. The Lady Vanishes (1938) | Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
  48. Lady Vengeance (2005) | Directed by Park Chan-wook
  49. The Lord of the Rings Extended Editions (2001 – 2003) | Directed by Peter Jackson
  50. Lost in Translation (2003) | Directed by Sofia Coppola
  51. M (1931) | Directed by Fritz Lang
  52. Manhattan* (1979) | Directed by Woody Allen
  53. The Manchurian Candidate (2004) | Directed by Jonathan Demme
  54. Mean Girls (2004) | Directed by Mark Waters
  55. Melancholia* (2011) | Directed by Lars von Trier
  56. Memento (2000) | Directed by Christopher Nolan
  57. Midnight in Paris (2011) | Directed by Woody Allen
  58. Modern Times (1936) | Directed by Charlie Chaplin
  59. Moon (2009) | Directed by Duncan Jones
  60. Nights of Cabiria/Vivre sa Vie* (1957/1962) | Directed by Federico Fellini/Jean-Luc Godard
  61. Nosferatu (1927) | Directed by F.W. Murnau
  62. Ocean’s Eleven (2001) | Directed by Steven Soderbergh
  63. Oldboy (2004) | Directed by Park Chan-wook
  64. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) | Directed by Guillermo del Toro
  65. Paper Moon (1973) | Directed by Peter Bogdonavich
  66. Paths of Glory (1957) | Directed by Stanley Kubrick
  67. Pleasantville (1998) | Directed by Gary Ross
  68. The Prestige (2006) | Directed by Christopher Nolan
  69. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) | Directed by Woody Allen
  70. Radio Days (1987) | Directed by Woody Allen
  71. Rango (2011) | Directed by Gore Verbinski
  72. Rear Window (1954) | Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
  73. The Red Balloon (1965) | Directed by Albert Lamorisse
  74. Saw (2004) | Directed by James Wan
  75. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) | Directed by Edgar Wright
  76. Scream (1996) | Directed by Wes Craven
  77. The Seventh Seal (1957) | Directed by Ingmar Bergman
  78. Sherlock Jr. (1924) | Directed by Buster Keaton
  79. The Shining (1980) | Directed by Stanley Kubrick
  80. Shoot the Piano Player (1960) | Directed by François Truffaut
  81. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Directed by Jonathan Demme
  82. Sin City (2004) | Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller
  83. Singin’ in the Rain* (1952) | Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
  84. The Social Network (2010) | Directed by David Fincher
  85. Some Like it Hot/The Apartment (1959/1960) | Directed by Billy Wilder
  86. Star Wars* (1977) | Directed by George Lucas
  87. Stranger Than Fiction* (2006) | Directed by Marc Forster
  88. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) | Directed by Tim Burton
  89. Taxi Driver (1976) | Directed by Martin Scorsese
  90. This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006) | Directed by Kirby Dick
  91. Three Colors Trilogy (1993 – 1994) | Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski
  92. There Will Be Blood (2007) | Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
  93. Toy Story (1995) | Directed by John Lasseter
  94. The Tree of Life (2011) | Directed by Terrence Malick
  95. The Truman Show (1998) | Directed by Peter Wei
  96. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) | Directed by Wes Craven
  97. His Girl Friday (1940) | Directed by Howard Hawks
  98. When Harry Met Sally… (1989) | Directed by Rob Reiner
  99. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) | Directed by Robert Zemeckis
  100. Young Adult (2011) | Directed by Jason Reitman
  101. Young Frankenstein (1974) | Directed by Mel Brooks

Links to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

Watch and See – My Top 101 Favorite Films: Part 5

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And a big thank you for joining me in the final installment in what is undoubtedly the most arduous post I’ve ever written. Hope you enjoyed!

Thanks for bearing with me on this trip down my personal memory lane and through my favorite films of all time. For the final installment, you’ll encounter: silence, sin, singing, greed, comedy with a hint of nihilism, a Mark Twain quote and comedy and tragedy, a shave, loneliness, an exposé, post-Cold War allegories about reunification of Europe, oil, jealousy, cosmos, commentary on reality TV and horror’s impact on society, 191 screenplay pages in a brusque 92 minutes, men and women being friends (or not), more neo-noir, adolescent adults, and a couple song and dance numbers, including “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. And now, drum roll please….

81.          The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Directed by Jonathan Demme

Arguably the greatest thriller ever made, Jonathan Demme’s part procedural, part look into the mind of a monster contains some of the greatest performances in the last three decades. The confidence exuded from Jodie Foster makes her newbie FBI agent Clarice Starling convincing and real. Anthony Hopkins’ performance as the sociopathic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter, meanwhile, is simply unforgettable. Demme’s is a film that somehow taunts the audience. Lecter looks into the soul of the audience and asks, “Have the lambs stopped screaming?” For us, Demme’s film has left such an enduring legacy who knows when we’ll finally hear the silence of the lambs.

82.          Sin City (2004) | Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller

Sin City is probably the best adaptation of a comic book we’ll ever get. Visually inspired by the series as well as taking its own cues, it’s a style that drips with the same nihilism as the original series. Rodriguez adds his own spin to things, but he remains faithful. It’s harsh black and white recalls film noir, but the splashes of color make the film thrilling, even disturbing at times. It’s a garish and artificial environment, a sadistic tribute to film noir.

83.          Singin’ in the Rain* (1952) | Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen

I recently got to see Singin’ in the Rain in theaters and on the big screen, and it reminded me of how much I adore this film. It was my first time viewing the big, colorful sets, the outrageous and incredible musical numbers, and the impeccable choreography projected on the big screen. Seeing it again made me realize it is truly amongst the greatest musicals ever made for the screen. The film utilizes a specific element, even gimmick, to perfectly portray a changing time in film. Silent films are becoming a thing of the past, and when people began to experiment with sound, they wanted to do musical revues. Taking some of those same songs from the time make the effort utterly fantastic.  It’s a gimmick that works specifically in its favor. The musical numbers are, of course, unforgettable; from the hilarious Donald O’Connor doing “Make ‘Em Laugh” to the iconic rain drenched title song, there’s never a sour note in Singin’ in the Rain. And, oh, what a glorious feeling!

84.          The Social Network (2010) | Directed by David Fincher

Every time someone calls The Social Network the “Facebook Movie”, I have a strong desire to… poke them, really hard. With an ingenious script from Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin, David Fincher takes what could easily be a boring, childishly soapy topic and makes it memorable. The film is so character and dialogue driven, you can track the development of every character merely by their lines. Although Fincher’s direction is clearly there, he takes a back seat, utilizing restrained, understated techniques and letting his characters tell the story. I don’t think I’ve ever been as upset as when The Social Network did not win Best Picture at the Academy Awards when it was nominated a few years ago. Kudos to Jesse Eisenberg for portraying an egghead douchebag who may or may not have stolen an idea and making him relatively sympathetic as a character. Though, my favorite part is at the beginning, when Rooney Mara breaks up with Eisenberg. “Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster.” Priceless. Well, more like it’s worth a billion. And that is indeed cool.

85.          Some Like it Hot/The Apartment (1959/1960) | Directed by Billy Wilder

Although Wilder may have been better known for some of his darker, fairly nihilistic films like Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard, both Some Like It Hot and The Apartment are his human masterpieces. Even though it took several years for Andrew Sarris to finally admit that Wilder qualified as an auteur, Wilder’s humanistic characterizations of the people in his films are all present in both of these films. Some Like it Hot is the most overtly hilarious, with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag and a delicious Marilyn Monroe with a ridiculous name. And while the jokes come fast and furious, the sense of foreboding is still there, while gangster chase after the two male leads. Meanwhile, Wilder examines loneliness and adultery in The Apartment, where Lemmon returns and plays a solitary sap that lets out his apartment for his philandering colleagues and bosses at work. Although it can be incredibly romantic, Wilder’s trademark nihilism is always there, more prominent in The Apartment than in Some Like It Hot. Regardless of the darkness of these films, both are masterpieces of pathos, comedy, and tragedy. But, hey, nobody’s perfect.

 

86.          Star Wars* (1977) | Directed by George Lucas

After Jaws, Star Wars paved the way for the epic blockbuster movie. I guess, despite my loyalty to the series, Star Wars is to blame for the impulsive, mindless adrenaline fests that are so often produced today, over films with thought and integrity. It may be a little ironic, because as big budget as Star Wars may seem, Lucas imbues his film with the same kind of mythmaking and psychology found in Joseph Campbell’s  study of mythology and the hero called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Lucas also alludes to one of his favorite directors, Akira Kurosawa. The epic space opera still retains the same thrill and excitement it gave back when it was released in 1977, and has left an enormous impact on my life.

87.          Stranger Than Fiction* (2006) | Directed by Marc Forster

It took me three years to formulate a coherent essay on Stranger Than Fiction, because there was so much I wanted to say about it and, unlike me, I was not able to fully articulate my feelings. Had I been reductive, it would have amounted to “All the feels!” The story of a man who happens to be in a story offers itself to philosophical discourse, but just as much as that; the film explores the creative process. This is thanks to Zach Helm’s absolutely brilliant screenplay (which I on my bedside table). I commend Will Ferrell for his lucid, raw performance. Yes, people, the man can do drama, and damn well. But, hey, the entire cast is outstanding. Emma Thompson’s struggling writer, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s one of a kind anarchist baker, and Dustin Hoffman’s extraordinarily unique literature professor are all incredible in the film. To delve further into the mind of Ferrell’s Harold Crick, his thought process is illustrated on the screen by way of a computer generated user interface. Almost as if Apple made him, ever neuroses, quirk, and decision made is shown on the screen. Stranger Than Fiction is a rich, beautiful portrait of creation and life, with the right mix of comedy and tragedy.

88.          Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) | Directed by Tim Burton

Is it a horror film? Or is it a musical? Whatever it is, it’s brilliant. Tim Burton takes Stephen Sondheim’s dark comedic Broadway hit and creates a Gothic masterpiece, nightmarishly realized, and led by a powerhouse performance from Johnny Depp. There’s a deep, dark soul to this Sweeney Todd, and the film is eaten up by the bleakness and morbidity. Towards the end of the film, though, there is true emotion and pathos. The music is as engaging as ever, retaining the wit Sondheim intended. The darkened, desaturated palette adds extraordinary mood to the film. Pieced together, Sweeney Todd is one of the best films Burton has ever brought to the screen.

89.          Taxi Driver (1976) | Directed by Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese’s portrait of a ticking time bomb is one of the most memorable films of all time. Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader together created one of the most disturbed characters on screen. An icon of loneliness and manifestation of mental seclusion, Robert De Niro’s legendary role of Travis Bickle remains one of the most lauded performances of all time. My best friend wrote an essay about the use of sound in the film. For Scorsese utilizes everything in his power to accentuate the feeling of loneliness and solitude. The isolation penetrates the heart, a success on the filmmakers’ part. It’s a masterwork on loneliness.

90.          This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006) | Directed by Kirby Dick

I know it’s kind of a shame that this is the sole documentary on the list, but you end up being rather limited. Despite being fairly one sided, you can’t deny that Kirby Dick’s expose of the Motion Picture Association of America ratings board is provocative and extremely entertaining. Part of it is a history lesson on the MPAA, going through the many films that have been denied certain ratings, have been given certain ratings because of content bias, etc. And the other part is a fun expose, as Dick and a private detective attempt to unmask the anonymous “regular parents” on the board that advises you what to watch. Terribly fascinating and eye opening, This Film is Not Yet Rated is a very funny look at the restricted and the general.

91.          Three Colors Trilogy (1993 – 1994) | Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski

Although hailed as masterworks of the art house world, Kieślowski’s Three Colors Trilogy, made up of Blue, White, and Red, the colors of the French flag, are far more entertaining than their daunting title would suggest. A lot of people hear “art house” and recoil, but Kieślowski’s films are full of splendor and capture the audience’s attention for their entirety. Blue, with an incredible performance from Juliette Binoche, is the anti-tragedy and the most moving of the trilogy; White is the anti-comedy, quaint and amusing; and Red is the anti-romance, lush and elegant. All three films will affect the way you look at life. Yes, they are life altering. Liberty, equality, fraternity.

92.          There Will Be Blood (2007) | Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

There Will Be Blood was the first film from Paul Thomas Anderson that I saw, and even then, I knew I was dealing with a master. With Daniel Day-Lewis’ awe-inspiring performance as a greed driven oil man, There Will Be Blood transcends cinema altogether at times. It’s enormous in its power, each frame and image burned into one’s brain after seeing it. The film is full of deep religious imagery, and Daniel Day-Lewis is totally uncompromising. There Will Be Blood is a drama that shakes you up for good.

93.          Toy Story (1995) | Directed by John Lasseter

A story of greed, narcissism, and attempted murder. Yes, people, I am talking about Toy Story. Underneath the sweet story of friendship is something very diabolical, even seedy and nihilistic. The film was originally fashioned and written as a much darker story, but Disney insisted it be happier. Woody was less likable, Buzz was more insane, and their constant head butting was more verbally violent. Even though it was sweetened up extensively for kids, there are still strains of the original darkness in there. Revolutionary when it was released because of the technology that was used, Toy Story is an exceptional film, not merely an animated one. Its story is tight and incredibly interesting, and the voice acting is exemplary. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are both perfect in the film and Woody and Buzz. For the time, the scope of the film is pleasantly huge. Tackling an entire world of play. Toy Story is absolute perfection.

94.          The Tree of Life (2011) | Directed by Terrence Malick

It seems far less important understanding or analyzing the film than it is simply basking in all of its beautiful, daring, and undoubtedly striking spell. At its core, the film may (or may not) be about a family in Texas, as a child begins to rebel against his strict father. But, throughout that story of man versus nature, Terrence Malick dares us to sit and watch as the universe comes together before our eyes. It can be a turn-off for some, but one has to admire his audacity and the sheer scope of the challenge. Brad Pitt’s fierce storm of acting and Jessica Chastain’s effervescent mother nature is a wonder to behold. Love it or hate it, The Tree of Life certainly is a wonder.

95.          The Truman Show (1998) | Directed by Peter Weir

As you might be able to tell, I admire funny actors who can do serious work. Evident in my selection of Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell stepped out of his goofy shoes and gave us a human character to be remembered (or, it should be, as the film, I feel, is tremendously underrated). Jim Carrey does a similar thing in The Truman Show, which has the plot of a very existential episode of The Twilight Zone. Truman’s life is a reality show, and once he starts to realize this, he encounters a crisis, trying to discover who he is and how much of his life was a lie (all of it, basically). It’s beautifully moving film, with a star turn from Carrey. Laura Linney, who plays his “wife”, is also very good in the film. But, again, it’s Carrey who, er, carries the film. Yes, the script is grand, but Carrey instills the character with pathos and humanism, only bouncing back to his usual goofiness when it serves the character. The Truman Show primarily pushes aside the obvious commentary on reality TV in favor of getting to the heart of its protagonist.

96.          Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) | Directed by Wes Craven

Even before the Scream films, Wes Craven was getting at the heady commentary of horror films and their impact on the public with the best film in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Having departed from the series since the second film, Craven returns with a chilling and almost prophetic film. In a way, the humor and the story itself is even more self-aware and self-referential than even Scream. There are scenes that refer back to its own screenplay. Freddy Krueger comes back as a manifestation of the darkness that the films show, and the lead from the original, Heather Lagenkamp, worries about the effect the films will have on her son. It’s shockingly smart for Craven to explore this side of horror; the consequences of graphic violence seen at an early age and the ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality. Flawed though the film is (its third act is kind of lackluster), it actually proves to be one of the most interesting horror films ever released.

97.          His Girl Friday (1940) | Directed by Howard Hawks

Although it’s been remade a couple of times, and itself a remake, His Girl Friday is a legendary screwball comedy. If you think you’ve heard fast paced dialogue, you haven’t heard His Girl Friday. It makes Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue sound like it’s going through a drive through at a fast food joint. The screenplay, based on a play called The Front Page, was somewhere over 190 pages, but its smooth 90 minute running time is thanks to the way Hawks directed the dialogue. Characters talk over one another, finish one another’s sentences, and interrupt one another. This fast paced realism is jarring at first, mostly because one doesn’t expect for the dialogue to be traded so quickly. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell are perfect together; the former sabotaging the latter’s upcoming wedding. Through the dialogue, Hawks also examines the unscrupulous tactics of reporters all the while. It’s Broadcast News for the 1940’s!

98.          When Harry Met Sally… (1989) | Directed by Rob Reiner

Sometimes it is incredibly jarring how on the nose a film can be about a certain subject. When it comes to men and women, few films get as close, or as funny, to the platonic relationship as When Harry Met Sally…. Nora Ephron’s near perfect screenplay accurately and insightfully looks at the dynamic between men and women, especially when they are not in a romantic relationship. I watched this film on a loop last summer, as I found the subject startlingly relevant to my personal life. It made me wonder about my own platonic relationships with my female friends. One must be honest though; When Harry Met Sally, regardless of how well it was written, set up a majority of the tropes one sees in romantic comedies today. It’s really been copied too many times, and never in a satisfying way. (You can also thank Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night for some of those clichés.) Nevertheless, with incredibly witty dialogue, fantastic performances from Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, and some very memorable moments, When Harry Met Sally is a phenomenal romantic comedy. As to whether men and women can just be friends? I posit yes.

99.          Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) | Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Blending a universe all his own and a couple others that were already world renowned, Zemeckis took the opportunity to really experiment with technology and storytelling, and the results are incredible. Here, cartoon characters interact with humans, and while the comedy runs amok throughout the film, it is at heart an experimental film noir. The cleverness the film has to offer is fun and amusing, and it’s truly spectacular to see some of the most well-known staples of the cartoon universe pop up. Once again, story takes center stage, reminiscent of the hardboiled noirs of yore. Though, the technical aspects are outstanding. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Contains some of the cheekiest humor ever, and its technical aspects as well as its story make it a fantastic film.

100.        Young Adult (2011) | Directed by Jason Reitman

I sure as hell hope that I don’t end up knowing, or turning into, Mavis from Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s righteous and darkly hilarious Young Adult. Charlize Theron has the looks to have played a high school bitch, and she fits right into the role, almost as if she’d been playing it since birth. Cody’s razor sharp screenplay not only contains painfully funny dialogue, but even more painful examinations of disappointment and maturity, or lack thereof. She is as stuck in the past as one could ever be, manifesting her desires in her dying young adult book series. Joined by a stellar Patton Oswalt, maybe these guys should have paid attention during history, as they ended up being doomed and repeating it.

101.        Young Frankenstein (1974) | Directed by Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks’ terrific parody of Universal Monster movies is amongst the greatest comedies ever made. Parodying everything from Dracula to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and, yes, Frankenstein, the film is an absolutely perfect tribute to those older films. Mel Brooks’ classic has an enduring legacy, and some of the greatest gags on celluloid are in this single film (“Frau Blucher!”). It plays with the sensibilities of the studio era, such as the ridiculous sets and the star system. Young Frankenstein is a classic to behold.

So, what do you think? Let me know! Thanks for reading!

Links to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Watch and See – My Top 101 Favorite Films: Part 4

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Welcome to the penultimate installment of my top 101 favorite films of all time. Here, you’ll see: not shiny vampires, heists and cons, extreme Asians, adult fairy tales, war, black and white and color, the magic of film, the magic of romance, nostalgia, voyeurism, games, subverted tropes, a game of Chess, sleepy theater projectionists, all fun and no play, and the film that did what Breathless could not.

61.          Nosferatu (1927) | Directed by F.W. Murnau

Murnau’s notorious illegal adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a stylish, creepy film that practically invented the horror film as we know it. Twilight can go suck it, for it’s Max Schrek’s Count Orlock that’s the original cinematic vampire. With gorgeous cinematography, despite it being very expressionistic, what Murnau did differently was he filmed on location much of the time. There’s still a warped sense of humor and horror behind each wall, and the shadows play tricks on the mind, as every haunted house should. Murnau’s horror film is unrivaled for its originality and technical experimentation.

62.          Ocean’s Eleven (2001) | Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh created his own Rat Pack with a remake of the ‘60s heist film. Gathering some of the biggest stars of the time, including Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and George Clooney, Soderbergh creates a very memorable and stylish heist movie that would change Hollywood heist movies forever. Soderbergh’s strength is that he is able to balance a labyrinthine plot with marvelous technical mastery. The director utilizes auteuristic techniques for what many would consider a fairly mainstream effort. Its inventive cinematography, the colorful palette reminiscent of Sin City, and the huge cast are all high points of the film. Regardless of how derivative a film may look just by a trailer or synopsis, when you have Steven Soderbergh behind the camera, all bets are off.

63.          Oldboy (2004) | Directed by Park Chan-wook

The Korean crime noir sky rocketed the Asian Extreme movement to fame in the United States. Oldboy is, for one reason or another, absolutely infamous as a super violent, super gratuitous, and superbly written horror movie. Only one of those things is correct. Winner of the Grand Prix Jury Award at Cannes, the film, like I said, has its origins in film noir, with its first person narration and the fragmented memories. Is the film violent? Sure, but it is hardly as shocking as people make it out to be. Is it a horror film? Not at all. Violence does not a horror movie make. Park Chan-wook is actually quite skilled at leaving most of the violence to suggestion. Quick cuts and great editing aid the effect, actually making the scenes more visceral than graphic violence could have ever done it. The film is grittier and darker than the other films of Chan-wook’s thematic Vengeance Trilogy, but it remains incredibly effective nonetheless. Oldboy is one of the most incredible experiences to ever see, and you won’t see the ending coming.

64.          Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) | Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Del Toro’s adult fairy tale is a dream and a nightmare all at once. Using traditional elements from mythology and children’s fairy tales, Guillermo Del Toro fashions a political and moral allegory that only become more interesting with each subsequent viewing. There are a lot of things to love about this film, from its acting, its cinematography, etc., but what I like most about it is the visual realization of a completely different world. Though it takes place around the time of the Spanish Civil War, the world that Del Toro creates is a unique vision that incorporates many familiar elements. The visual symbolism adds depth to the film (such as the ever frequent Rule of Three). The end is heartbreaking and startlingly real. In this film, Del Toro proves that he is a well read, and skillful director, capable of creating his own world in film.

65.          Paper Moon (1973) | Directed by Peter Bogdonavich

Bogdonavich is better known for his realistic portrayal of lost teens in the midst of the Korean War in The Last Picture Show, but his Depression-era tale of a con artist and the partner in crime who may or may not be his illegitimate daughter is the most fun. Ryan O’Neal and his daughter, Tatum, make the perfect team, and it is almost frightening to see such a young girl who can keep her father on her toes, both within in the film as a con artist and in terms of the acting. The gorgeous black and white photography and the jovial soundtrack are juxtaposed against the dark setting of the film. But worry not, this film is funny. With a hilarious turn from Madeline Khan, Paper Moon is a funny and sweet look at a slightly dysfunctional family.

66.          Paths of Glory (1957) | Directed by Stanley Kubrick

What I would surmise as the greatest anti-war film ever made, Kubrick’s Paths of Glory would set up a recurring theme that would be featured throughout his career, including Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket. Portraying war as a machine that breaks down and destroys men, Paths of Glory is the story of a group of men in the French military in WWI who are sent on a suicide mission, but when they refuse and return unsuccessful and alive, they are accused of cowardice. Part film about war, part court drama, and all riveting emotional commentary on war, Kirk Douglas gives a brilliant performance and Kubrick eloquently and masterfully directs the most powerful message against war ever made.

67.          Pleasantville (1998) | Directed by Gary Ross

TV in the 1950’s was quaint and retained a façade of family values. It was clean family fun. When the world is disrupted with reality in the form of art that challenges the norm for creativity, sex that challenges social values, and ideological changes, the transition is not smooth. But Pleasantville, with its brilliant use of color and black and white, presents a very real problem in the world today: acceptance of change. The people of the TV show within the film, a hybrid of Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver, amongst others, are xenophobic and closed minded and incredibly use to routine (and terrible jokes). That changes when two teenagers from the real world are sucked into the TV and trapped. It starts off as a very quaint, funny film, but moves into being a serious commentary on society’s perceptions of others. Incredibly clever and visually astonishing, Pleasantville finds new relevance with each viewing.

68.          The Prestige (2006) | Directed by Christopher Nolan

The man behind Memento and The Dark Knight Trilogy returned to his psychedelic roots after Batman Begins with this mind bogglingly perfect metaphor about the beauty and pain of filmmaking. Nolan takes sleight of hand seriously, and throughout the film, literally, as two magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) go at it by trying to one up each other in their respective acts. Not only that, they also, you know, like ruining one another’s lives. But it’s all a magic trick. Through the three phases of the magic trick, the Pledge, the Turn, and the Prestige, Nolan creates an incredible illusion for the audience. The bottom line of The Prestige: everything about film is magic.

69.          The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) | Directed by Woody Allen

What could be lovelier than the story of a woman who is in love with the movies falling for a man who jumps right off the screen to court her? The answer is nothing. Although director Woody Allen intended the film to be a lot more “esoteric” than it turned out, highlighting how disappointing reality can be and how much more appealing fantasy is, The Purple Rose of Cairo is quite frothy and intelligent at the same time. One of the few films of Allen’s to explore fantasy (the other being Midnight in Paris), Jeff Daniels does a superb job playing the handsome and naïve screen character, an archeologist, and the rising star who plays the archeologist. Mia Farrow takes on the role of the neurotic, and does so splendidly. Full of wit and romance, it’s the best thing a film lover, and one who frequently falls in love with fictional characters, could ever imagine.

70.          Radio Days (1987) | Directed by Woody Allen

Often compared to Fellini’s Amarcord, Woody Allen’s slice of nostalgia is one of his best films. Narrated by Allen and illustrating a wonderfully romanticized past through various episodes and vignettes, Radio Days is a beautifully fun portrait of the past. Allen would explore the power of nostalgia later again in Midnight in Paris, but it seems more light hearted here. Yes, that’s a very young Seth Green portraying a young Allen. Radio Days is fun and captures the world of a romantic remembering the best times of his childhood perfectly.

71.          Rango (2011) | Directed by Gore Verbinski

Rango is the perfect example of an animated film that just so happens to be aimed at kids, but whose subverted subject matter is elegantly and fantastically handled. It’s a quasi-Western about a lizard that, as the convention holds, pretends to be something he is not. Conventions notwithstanding, the dialogue, allusions, and voice work are enough to wipe any of the inconsistencies out of mind. The animation, however… will blow your mind. Industrial Light and Magic, you know the guys who brought Star Wars to life, make their first feature film and it is gorgeous. It’s photorealistic to the point where you have to squint to make sure it’s only computer generated imagery. Johnny Depp is wonderful, of course. With a story ripped out of Chinatown, Rango superbly goes where all animated films go but few do with such panache: self-reflexivity and meta-humor.

72.          Rear Window (1954) | Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock, I like to think, not only enjoyed scaring audiences and leaving their stomach in knots from tension, but also enjoyed challenging the audience as much as any auteur likes to. In Rear Window, he makes the audience complicit in voyeurism. James Stewart is the photographer stuck up in his apartment in a wheel chair with nothing to do but spy on his neighbors that live across from him. When he suspects one of them for murder, well, you know what happens next. It’s typically suspenseful for a Hitchcock film, but it really engages the mind in ethical decisions. To what extent are we just as guilty as Stewart in the voyeurism? (This technique would also find relevance in Michael Haneke’s Caché.) And were he/we not watching, would this man have gotten away with murder? It’s those kinds of questions that make Rear Window such a compelling thriller.

73.          The Red Balloon (1965) | Directed by Albert Lamorisse

Lamorisse’s short film is a glorious, lighter than air ode to childhood. In a small world where balloons have a life of their own, the pure joy and gaiety of the film make it one of the most delightful gifts film has to offer. The photography is sweet and captures the saccharine mood perfectly. Perfectly tender and heartfelt, The Red Balloon is a pleasure.

74.          Saw (2004) | Directed by James Wan

While it may have ushered a new wave of horror movies under the sub-genre “torture porn”, James Wan’s debut feature Saw is actually a smartly written and taut psychological thriller. The film lingers more on the ethical decisions than the final results of the “games”, and is reliant on a fairly clever nonlinear narrative. The twists and turns in the story are convincing in this film, and, though it gave birth to many a sequel offspring, its ending isn’t so ambiguous that it called for any of the sequels. Although the acting is stale and overwrought (I blame Cary Elwes), it is sustainable primarily on its script. Saw is actually a very chilling film.

75.          Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) | Directed by Edgar Wright

While I was never much into video games or comic books, even one mildly acquainted with the style of 8-bit games and panel to panel comics should love Scott Pilgrim. The film’s visual inventiveness is one of the best things about it, recreating the same tone and sound effects one would find in a classic arcade game. Therefore, arcade and comic in jokes abound. The film also delivers script wise, featuring a wildly clever screenplay with fast paced dialogue, as well as a very fun soundtrack. While Michael Cera may feel comfortable, at times too comfortable, in his awkward archetype, here it suits him well without being insufferable. There’s a certain amount of deluded confidence in his character which makes his role funnier. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the love interest Ramona, and she gives her character some nice depth and a sense of vulnerability. Scott Pilgrim is a fun and wild ride, a game you’ll want to play again, long after your coins have run out.

76.          Scream (1996) | Directed by Wes Craven

Horror started getting postmodern and incredibly aware of itself when Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson brought Scream to the screen. While at once parodying and revitalizing the once dead and dying slasher genre, Williamson’s sharp screenplay and Craven’s tight directing brought horror to the forefront once again. Playing on the tropes that were so very well known, Craven and his gang set up the rules to a successful franchise, and made his film a call for smarter horror films. The allusions and humor run rampant throughout the film. And it forever immortalized the single best question to ask around Halloween: “What’s your favorite scary movie?”

77.          The Seventh Seal (1957) | Directed by Ingmar Bergman

If you’ve heard me complain about Godard’s sledgehammer approach to philosophy, the filmmaker I immediately run to escape that is Ingmar Bergman. Capable of moving an audience and conveying his deep personal thoughts on life and death without bashing you in the face with a shovel, the perfect example of his technique is The Seventh Seal. Fantastically atmospheric, with moments of witty humor, Bergman’s bleak film about the meaning of life and death is both entertaining and without a doubt one of the most philosophically deep films ever made. It gives a whole new meaning to “Do you want to play a Game?”

78.          Sherlock Jr. (1924) | Directed by Buster Keaton

Bringing together a love of film and magic, Sherlock Jr. is probably Keaton’s most entertaining film, and undoubtedly his funniest. Some of his most enjoyable stunts are in this film, but the most magical sequence in silent cinema is in Sherlock Jr. After falling asleep at the projector, Keaton finds himself jumping into the screen and his environment changes from one place, to another, his body forcing itself to adapt. It’s one of the cleverest scenes ever made, especially within the silent era. And Sherlock Jr. is one of the most delightful films from the era as well.

79.          The Shining (1980) | Directed by Stanley Kubrick

The Shining is a crazy amalgam of horror, suspense, chills, psychoanalysis, metaphor, and truly disturbing images. While there is much to analyze about the film, on a purely visceral level, it’s one of the scariest films ever made. Nicholson is perfect as the mad patriarch Jack Torrence, while Shelley Duvall is sadly underrated in a brilliant performance as his long suffering wife. The brutal shoot took a toll on the actors, which make their performances all the stronger. Kubrick’s stylish and skillful direction is all over the film, for, what is it more than Kubrick doing horror? It’s almost unbelievable the mileage Kubrick gets from this film, keeping the audience at the edge of their seats at all times. There’s never a dull moment in The Shining.

80.          Shoot the Piano Player (1960) | Directed by François Truffaut

Sure, Godard can play the tribute game too, and while everyone likes to attribute Breathless as the film that shaped the New Wave, it’s Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player that did it too, and did it enjoyably. The comedy is deadpan, the action ripped from Hollywood noirs, and the romance believable and naturalistic. It’s so convincing in its adoration for Hollywood movies that it, at times, feels like a Hollywood gangster film simply made by a Frenchman. Truffaut’s film is a loving tribute to the films that inspired him.

Watch and See – My Favorite 101 Films: Part 3

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Welcome back, to my continuing series of my top 101 films! In case you missed it, here’s part 2!

Welcome back to my continuing series of my favorite 101 films of all time, where you’ll encounter: wood chippers, tanks, “Nazi Julie Andrews”, Beauty and the Beast, something precious, whiskey, “In the Hall of the Mountain King” whistled, Nabokov smiling, something too gay to function, the end of the world, memory problems, a smile, and two tragic heroines, who happen to be hookers.

41.          Fargo (1996) Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Most of the Coen Brothers’ films, I’ve observed, tend to be neo-noirs disguised under some other sort of other genre clichés. However, their dark classic Fargo is just a straight up noir, studying the lives of criminals, a police officer, a mild mannered guy with a lot of debt, and the small town residents of North Dakota with their funny accents. The Coens described where they grew up as “Siberia with family themed restaurants”, and that description seems to be a good metaphor for the perfect blend of comedy and suspense. The film is dark and cold, but also completely hilarious. Fargo is perfect, dontcha know?

42.          GoldenEye (1995) | Directed by Martin Campbell

I have always asserted that the best James Bond films are simply the best espionage films. It works outside of the series and can stand on its own. This is just as true as Martin Campbell’s first Bond effort, GoldenEye, which ushered in Pierce Brosnan as Double O Seven for the first time. Bridging the gap between the hokey escapism of the previous14 films and the gritty realism of the Craig era, GoldenEye works well because aside from a couple key scenes and the fact that, as per usual, Bond recites his name, it doesn’t feel like a Bond film, therefore not weighted by certain expectations. Even if the expectations were there, it would surpass them, and rightly so. GoldenEye was a fantastic way for Bond to enter the ‘90s.

43.          In the Loop (2009) | Directed by Armando Iannucci

In the Loop is the Dr. Strangelove for the 21st century. The terrific film delves into the world of British politics and profanely satirizes everything. If it weren’t so gut bustingly funny, it would be deeply depressing to realize how incompetent some of these people are. The screenplay is incredible, its language so vulgar and funny that it shed new light on certain topics. And added some insults to my lexicon. (“Nazi Julie Andrews!”) Based loosely on the BBC show The Thick of It, In the Loop spectacularly mocks the fog of war.

44.          Kill Bill (2003/2004) | Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Kill Bill was Tarantino’s pop art collage. Stealing (or borrowing, whatever you prefer) everything under the sun to create a fast paced, frenetic film, it’s a playscape for the senses. The visceral thrills are second to none, as Tarantino shows off how much he knows about film, provides a badass female lead fantastically played by Uma Thurman, and seems to have an incredibly fun time.

45.          King Kong (2005) | Directed by Peter Jackson

If there has ever been a contemporary remake that’s been done right, it is this one. Peter Jackson’s gorgeously realized film is a stunner in every way. The level of detail, the characterizations, and the look of the film. The best thing about it is, though, the Beauty, Ann Darrow (a charming Naomi Watts) and the Beast, Kong (Andy Serkis is a genius, did you know that?). The love that Kong feels for Ann is so beautiful and so real that the ending breaks my heart every time. Animated with integrity, Kong’s fall from grace is painful and beautiful all at once. No one brings me to tears more often than the utterance of “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.”

46.          Kuroneko (1968) | Directed by Kaneto Shindo

This Japanese horror film with a feminist twist features some of the most stunning cinematography in a horror film. Deriving much of the action and movement from traditional Noh Theater, the stage is lit for ghostly shimmers, as a vengeful woman and her mother, who sometimes appear as cats, rip the throats out from samurais. Its plot is fine, but it is undoubtedly a showcase for the presentation, from the beautiful costumes and sets to the dreamlike cinematography. Spectacularly creepy, it’s like dancing with the demons in the pale moonlight.

47.          The Lady Vanishes (1938) | Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

This seems to be Hitchcock at his jauntiest. He may have made other light dark comedies, and even one deliberate comedy, but The Lady Vanishes is his frothiest film yet. Some of the techniques that would become Hitch’s trademark are featured in the film, but whatever the sense of foreboding; it is driven away by how amusing and funny it is. Its romance and the “opposites attract” would actually leave a little bit of a legacy, with Carrie Fisher quoting the film in When Harry Met Sally… (“You’re the most contemptible man I’ve ever met!”) Hitch keeps the audience entertained by both the comedy and the mystery, but even noted film historians have started watching the film with the intent to analyze it heavily and given up, lying back, and relaxing their ride on Hitch’s train.

48.          Lady Vengeance (2005) | Directed by Park Chan-wook

I always go back and forth between this and Oldboy as to which is better. Both are part of a thematic trilogy from Chan-wook, and on days when the Lady takes the cake, she really takes it. The emotional resonance in this film is extraordinary. A beautiful study of revenge and redemption, Lady Vengeance sticks out for its lush colors (or not, if you watch the excellent Fade to White version, in which scene by scene, the film desaturates) and its very Murder on the Orient Express-like conclusion. The treatment revenge has in this film is, in a way, less harsh than in Oldboy. Out protagonist comes to realize what she’s doing and how revenge itself is changing her far more quickly and halfway through the film, her motivations change slightly. It remains one of the most beautiful thrillers of the last decade.

49.          The Lord of the Rings Extended Editions (2001 – 2003) | Directed by Peter Jackson

There is not very much to say about Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy that hasn’t been said before. Though the pacing is at times problematic (how would you deal with the material?), it’s extravagant and amazingly huge in scope. If anyone could ever tackle these tomes and bring them to life, it was Jackson.

50.          Lost in Translation (2003) | Directed by Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola is an expert at capturing the meandering reality of loneliness. She did it, probably in a flashier way, with The Virgin Diaries, she did it with more focus on the costumes than on the plot in Marie Antoinette, but she explored the topic perfectly in Lost in Translation, which won her an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Two lonely people in a place where there is a significant language barrier meet and… do not sleep together. Instead, they find in each other kindred souls and a kind of intimacy that is unmatched with merely sex. The exploration of strangers in a lonely place offering solace to one another is pitch perfect in every scene. It turns out that existential ennui translates perfectly for the screen.

51.          M (1931) | Directed by Fritz Lang

Having seen this film several times, there is no way that I will not think of Lang’s noir-ish crime thriller M when I hear the foreboding notes of “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. Whistled faux-innocently by the ever creepy Peter Lorre is the first sign that nothing good is to come of this. Almost a critique of the police procedural as we know it, the deliberate pacing, sparsely framed shots, and beautiful chiaroscuro all add up to what is an indelible experience. (And, yes, I do consider it a part of German Expressionism).

52.          Manhattan* (1979) | Directed by Woody Allen

I’ve gone back and forth between Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Manhattan for what feels like ages, but I decided the latter would be in my top ten. More the comedic drama than Annie Hall’s dramatic comedy, the bittersweet tale of unrequited love and intellectuals in New York is a masterpiece. The film’s one liners are perfect, but underneath is the pathos and feeling of desire that everyone feels in the film. The Gershwin filled score adds to these tender moments of drama and romance, aiding the tone perfectly. And, of course, the film features some of the best black and white cinematography ever on screen by the Prince of Darkness, Gordon Willis. While some may love New York, I, myself, love Manhattan.

53.          The Manchurian Candidate (2004) | Directed by Jonathan Demme

Here’s another remake that was very successful in terms of quality. Though, re-adaptation seems a little more appropriate. Demme re-appropriates the themes of the original film, which circled around Communism, and used them in a contemporary context. Taking place after Desert Storm, the film gears in on various medical testing and the state of terrorism in the real world. It makes for an effective and taut thriller. Live Schreiber and Meryl Streep are incredible in the film.

54.          Mean Girls (2004) | Directed by Mark Waters

You may think it odd for me to have this film on my Top 101, but I truly adore it. Tina Fey’s acute study of the teenage girl in high school and the desire for popularity is one of the smartest teen films to ever be made. Endlessly quotable, its astute observations (as I mentioned in my lengthy review) are more than true. Even at the small school I go to, there are things that have happened that have reminded me of Mean Girls. Part of this realism is that the film is based on a nonfiction book, the other part being just good writing. Mean Girls is supported by outstanding performances from its cast, including Lindsay Lohan, Lizzy Caplan, and Rachel McAdams. Yes, I’m going to say it: This movie is so fetch!

55.          Melancholia* (2011) | Directed by Lars von Trier

It’s no secret that Lars von Trier is the benevolent sadist of art cinema. His films are rarely easy to watch, always beautiful, and always challenging. With Melancholia, he presents to us an operating staging of the end of the world. Though, the end of the world hardly means anything in comparison to the characters he studies in the film and the lives he analyzes. The fly by planet may be that manifestation of depression for Justine, but it’s Kirsten Dunst’s stand out performance that makes the end of the world so memorable. Charlotte Gainsbourg, too, is outstanding ass Justine’s older sister, and their relationship dynamic slowly disintegrates throughout the film. The cinematography, despite being hand held in nature, still captures beautiful scenes and portraits. The impact Justine has, as her emotions fly out of control, is just as damaging as the collision of Earth and Melancholia. But that’s what great art is: a collision of beautiful ideas, sounds, images, and emotion.

56.          Memento (2000) | Directed by Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan’s breakthrough art house film is an incredible exploration into memory, denial, and crime. A gloriously fantastic neo-noir with a tight script, amongst the things that make this film extraordinary is the nonlinear narrative. Yes, my friend, linearity goes out the window, as it is played backwards. If I didn’t love this film, I wouldn’t have written my extended essay on it. Guy Pearce plays a damaged man searching for his wife’s killer, but as we go further back into his mind and into the past, the things that are revealed are chilling yet incredibly human. Nolan starts playing his games for the big time in Memento. Stunning in every frame, Memento is one of the greatest film noirs ever made.

57.          Midnight in Paris (2011) | Directed by Woody Allen

Woody Allen’s delightful tale of the dangers of nostalgia is a pitch perfect comedy that hits every right note. Owen Wilson brings something new to the Woody archetype, making his struggling screenwriter his own, while the supporting cast is absolutely amazing. From mean girl Rachel McAdams, the pedantic Michael Sheen, and the tons of historical figures that appear as Gil travels back to Paris in the 1920’s (notably Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, and Dali), Allen is at the top of his game here. Midnight in Paris is a film that both warns one of the dangers of nostalgia, but enjoys it all the same.

58.          Modern Times (1936) | Directed by Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin avoided sound for as long as he could, and nearly a decade after The Jazz Singer had premiered with its revolutionary synchronized soundtrack, Chaplin was still holding tight keeping his Little Tramp’s lips sealed. The film is not completely silent. Modern Times incorporates some sound effects and probably half a dozen lines spoken by minor characters. And while Modern Times is undeniably hysterical, heartwarming, and as good of a showcase of Chaplin’s pantomime abilities as any of his films from a great filmography, Modern Times provides some interesting social commentary about consumerism, labor workers, and the industrialization of America. The film also ushered in the classic jazz standard “Smile”, which would be famously sung by Nat King Cole. With its ambiguous, but happy ending, Chaplin would move forward with technology and social awareness in his films.

59.          Moon (2009) | Directed by Duncan Jones

Duncan Jones’ debut feature is a about a man on the moon, who mines, and feels lonely. Yes, the existential crisis of loneliness in space. It sounds rather trite, but with sharp visuals, a gorgeous and atmospheric score by Clint Mansell, and absolutely stunning performance from Sam Rockwell, Moon is a star amongst emotional dramas. Sam Rockwell’s performance of Sam Bell is the “every man”, a man who has been working and mining for the last three years on the moon. When his time on the moon is about to close and he gears up to head back home, he realizes that he has become so attached to solitude, he does not understand how he will cope with the change in environment. It’s a beautiful, subtle, and at times fantastically suspenseful film.

60.          Nights of Cabiria/Vivre sa Vie* (1957/1962) | Directed by Federico Fellini/Jean-Luc Godard

The prostitution of society, religion, magic, celebrity, emotion, and money are the subjects of two of the greatest films ever made. I see Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria and Godard’s Vivre sa Vie as companion pieces, both dealing with similar subjects, both dealing with similar tragic protagonists, and both ending in similar ways. In Fellini’s film, Giulietta Messina inhabits the outspoken, down on her luck prostitute Cabiria. She aspires to be something bigger, but men constantly, habitually take advantage of her. In Godard’s film, framed around twelve tableaus, Anna Karina plays Nana, a Parisian girl who aspires to be an actress, but soon is relegated to being a prostitute. Both films take place in beautiful places in the world, and show the decrepit nature beneath the façade. Both films are directed with integrity and mastery of the medium. And both films are heartbreaking and tragic. If you don’t cry, or at least shed a tear, at the end of the films, you are a robot or a sociopath. Containing two of the greatest performances by women in cinematic history, both films, exploring complex characters, are the best the world of cinema has to offer.