Jonathan Demme

Criminal Minds: NBC’s Hannibal

Posted on

NBC’s Hannibal is not your average mystery show or procedural. It’s not even your average television show. It is cinematic in the best ways possible, aesthetically, narratively, and its primary characters are novelistic in how well they are written. What sets Hannibal apart from shows like Law & OrderCSI:, and NCIS is not necessarily its high production value, but how it’s never about the killer and always about the killer in any given episode. The show is as much as representation and visual metaphor for who Dr. Hannibal Lecter is as a character as anything: it plays mind games with you. And it may be the best show that NBC has aired in years.

Developed by Pushing Daisies helmer Bryan Fuller (which is, for the record, one of my favorite shows of all time), Hannibal works as a partial prequel to Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon. Though inherent to the television format, the show is episodic; it still sprawls like a good book, or even better, a great film. But, the characters and stories in this show are not married to either Harris’ source material or to Michael Mann’s film adaptation Manhunter, or even to Jonathan Demme’s seminal thriller The Silence of the Lambs. Sort of like the rebirth of a comic book hero or a character of a big budget franchise being rebooted: this is a new and fresh interpretation that at once utilizes its source material for inspiration yet diverges from it to give the story, and the characters that inhabit it, new life. So, Fuller smartly uses things only mentioned in passing in Red Dragon as some of the focal points for each episode, such as some of the killers his good guy, Will Graham, must track down. Yet he changes the sexes of some of the characters, making tabloid reporter Freddie Lounds and psychiatry professor Dr. Bloom women. Does this change matter? Yes and no. Yes in that these characters are well written, insightful, intelligent, etc. No, in that the change does not inherently affect how good the characters are. Every divergence that Fuller makes, however, enhances the story. It makes one wonder, however, that since the series is working in chronological order, prior to the events of Red Dragon mind you, if it should actually follow the story to a point where the show will become a serial adaptation of the novel.

The most striking thing about the show, though, at least what immediately springs to mind is how it looks. It might be the best looking show on television, at least on one of the major networks. The cinematography is atypical for a television series, even a good television series. Its precise use of colors, texture, slow motion, etc. is more reminiscent of two things: a show you would find on pay cable, like HBO or Showtime, or of a very specific kind of genre show (but a good one), like the teen-noir Veronica Mars. In some ways, the visual aesthetic of Hannibal is marriage of the mind of both Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter: sinister but exact in its filming, as Will would have it, and artfully, psychologically executed as only Lecter would have it. I say psychologically because so much of what is on screen recalls myths, literature, opera, film, yet connected into the dark interiors of the mind and subtext of such elements. Its visual style could be compared to the gorgeousness of the films of Park Chan-wook: Bergman-esque in its ties to psychology and morality, but painted so expertly on film.

But so much of what makes the show interesting not how gorgeous it is, but how set it is on seeping into your mind long after the episode has ended. Hannibal is, in this way, the perfect representation of its character, Hannibal Lecter. It wants to play the same mind games with you that make Dr. Lecter such an enticing character to begin with. It creeps into the psyches of all of its characters, peering into the nooks and crannies of the mind. Hannibal is less concerned with catching the killer the way a normal procedural show would and more concerned in analyzing and deconstructing what makes that episode’s killer tick. It is also supremely invested in understanding how its two characters, who will, if the chronology continues, begin a cat and mouse game, and how their minds work.

For Will, this is done explicitly. By introducing Hugh Dancy’s character immediately as “on the Autism spectrum” and closer to “Asperger’s”, the audience is given some sort of identifier. But when the cinematography and the scene itself jump into exactly what Will is thinking – that’s when the show gets interesting. Although the weakest aspect of the show is probably its dialogue (which sometimes tries too hard to be either meaningful and/or eerie), the phrase “this is my design” does work strongly within context. Graham is characterized not stereotypically via lack of social cues, a la The Big Bang Theory, but by genuine empathy, which is executed by the “design scenes”. To visualize exactly what is in Will’s mind is an interesting tactic to get the audience to empathize with will. His empathy manifests itself in the recreation of the crime, but not as a third party observer, but as the killer themselves. With the swinging, swooshing of a clock or metronome hand, each of these Design scenes has a particular tempo which they follow. It’s all precisely executed and shown, again, showing exactly how matched Graham and Lecter are together. Dancy portrays Graham with achingly powerful subtlety, never overplaying his hand either in the drama department or in the tortured soul department. Look deep into the character’s past in the novels and Graham is a damaged person, but while this damage is retained for the show, there’s less exposition and not the same back story. Instead, the show is the opportunity to explore Will’s mind.

The character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter has been written about and analyzed, certainly, and enough is known about the character where it seems that reinventing him would be fruitless. What else is there to know or care about him? On the contrary, Lecter’s complexities as a sociopath cum psychiatrist offer all the analysis one could ever want. The issue is, anyone playing him who is not Anthony Hopkins, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1991 for his portrayal of Lecter in Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, will unfairly draw comparison between the new comer and iconic performance. Hopkins went on to play Lecter again in 2001’s Hannibal (directed by Ridley Scott) and again in 2002 in the prequel Red Dragon. Gaspard Ulliel will probably never be remembered for playing the brooding ninja in Hannibal Rising (you know, since no one ever remember that film exists), and Brian Cox, though giving a fine performance in Mann’s Manhunter, will be left in the dust behind Hopkins. It is Hopkins’ flamboyancy that has defined the character, a man who is unquestionably the smartest man in the room, even when he isn’t in the room. Always steps ahead of everyone else (except, perhaps, Will Graham prior to Red Dragon), but his persona has always made him the least likely suspect, even if has committed the crime. Who would ever think that someone who has a photographic memory and a penchant for sketching, a fine taste for French cuisine, all the knowledge of art, classical music, and personality disorders anyone could possess – who would ever think that that man was a sociopath, never mind a cannibal and murderer?

It’s the ability to capture the audience’s attention in the most exotic way that makes Lecter so appealing. At some points, even though you know Lecter is probably pure evil manifested as hyper-intelligent, you don’t care. You would love to have a conversation with him. That is how Hopkins portrayed Lecter for three films. Cox’s performance is significant more restrained, almost in a “barely there” quality to those who have been exposed to Hopkins before, but he taunts William Peterson’s Will more overtly and more like a bully than we would have assumed Lecter would, based on Hopkins’ performance. So, who, in this whole wide world, could possibly play Hannibal Lecter and leave us with an impression that does not include the phrase, “well, he’s not as good as Hopkins, but…”? Mads Mikkelsen.

The Cannes Best Actor winner for Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt is best known for portraying Bond’s first nemesis in the 2006 reboot Casino Royale. His Le Chiffre was the much needed character that could outsmart Bond while leading the secret agent on into thing that Bond knows best. After years of the same formula, Mikkelsen’s confident portrayal was exactly what the series needed, and the perfect foil to Craig’s cocky, born-again Bond. He was also in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising as a nameless one eyed destroyer and in Susanne Bier’s After the Wedding as a man returning to the home he grew up. So, this man has had a rather varied and prestigious career, better known to critics for his strong portrayals in his native Denmark than for anything really American. But Mikkelsen’s versatility and ability to channel all the right characteristics without ever really bringing Hopkins to mind, well, that’s the sign of a great actor.

Mikkelsen, as evidence by Casino Royale, is good at mind games. And since the show is so reliant on playing those kinds of games with its audience, it is thus important that they acquire an actor that can do the same thing. Mikkelsen is thus able to seem sophisticated, intelligent, and completely confident. Rather, he embodies those qualities that Lecter is known for. The winning trait of Mikkelsen’s performance, though, is the fact that he always looks like he’s sizing you up for multiple purposes: competence, intelligence, and how tasty you’ll be when he serves you as the main entrée. Mikkelsen’s ability to get under the audience’s skin is perhaps the strongest quality of the performance, but it is accentuated by the fact that he’s able to perform this without being compared to the way Hopkins did it. Mikkelsen’s brand of psychosis is not Hopkins. He has been able to make Lecter his own. So, while the advantage to his performance is that there’s no comparison to other Lecters, to one issue is that, at times, Le Chiffre comes to mind. That is, primarily, because of the recognizable accent and, sometimes, the fact that both were known for their mind games. But Mikkelsen’s performance is bravura I just almost wrote “Lecter” instead of “Mikkelsen” at the beginning of the sentence. He has truly made the character fresh again and delicious to watch on television.

So much of the show, though, is focused on the minds of Will and Hannibal, so much so that you can sometimes not tell whose mind the show is investigating. Sometimes, it’s both at once. But that’s what makes the show unique: rare are the shows that care less about “solving the mystery” and more about deconstructing the psychosis and the motive. This method of storytelling, where sometimes the killer doesn’t even “matter” in the conventional sense, makes the series far more interesting than it may have played out normally. Instead, it sprawls cinematically, more like a mini-series on HBO than a regular television show (violence and all). Added by the inherent chronology that the show is following and the canon it is rewriting, watching each week is not like watching an episode of a television series; it feels more like seeing another chapter of the story unfold, filled with atmosphere, dramatic irony, and deadpan humor.

Each episode of Hannibal is named after a course in French cuisine. And so, it follows, each episode becomes tastier and more succulent to watch. With standout performances from the cast and incredibly smart writing, Hannibal is one of the most pleasing things on television. But it’s Mikkelsen’s superb performance, its high production values, and mind games that make the show worth a watch. How often does a show taunt you and get leave you stunned long after the show is over? It leaves a taste in your mouth that’s at once piquant and yet unsettling. It’s the most tempting thing on television today.

Please, NBC, pick it up for another season.

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

Posted on Updated on

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 Favorite 101 Films: Part 3

Posted on Updated on

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.