Actor's blog. STARdate 013111. Monday is my FAVORITE!!!
On today's agenda I am going to dive into the inner workings of my likee-likes and go through a specified list of my most FAVORITE FILM(S) of all time. As you can imagine, it's always a tough choice to just pick one. I cannot. I've been asked SO many times that very question and the answer is always the most convoluted, detailed and genre-specific query for me.
So, let's break it down Y'all!!!
My FAVORITES FILMS (By GENRE):
Directed by John Woo. While filming for decades in his native China, he truly defined a new kind of Action by choreographing gunplay with moving cameras, Mexican stand-offs (A nod to Director Sam Peckinpah), kung fu, doves and ten THOUSAND bullets. Everyone in the Action game copied his style after he and his body of work made it over the Pacific and was distributed in the early 90s. My buddy Harry and I watched those pirated VHS copies of The Killer and Hardboiled til the tape was about to snap. Still soundly beats any Action/Adventure movie's ASS today. And Chow Yun-Fat was the MAN. He made you want to kick someone's teeth in, run from room to room brandishing double-fisted guns and then dive behind the sofa while emptying an entire magazine clip all at once. And the comedy of that is Chow detested violence. Even before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon he was that good. Fuckin A right.
(American) This Is Spinal Tap
With Rob Reiner at the helm, former Lemmings Alums Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer joined with Michael McKean to write, produce and even perform the original music, to the first fully-realized, improv-based "Mockumentary". What resulted may be the most memorable, Heavy Metaltastic and hilarious film every to come out of the United States. Christopher Guest built a cottage industry with this Mockumentary style in later years, but this film was not to be believed. It had many guest star cameos (that were all hysterical; Billy Crystal, Paul Schaefer, Dana Carvey, Fran Drescher, Howard Hesseman, Fred Willard, Paul Benedict...) and worked SO WELL because it was taken so completely seriously. Unlike most comedies today.
(UK) Monty Python and The Holy Grail
No one could match the Monty Python team when it came to intelligent, absurdist, laugh-til-you-cry moments of comedic brilliance. Done on a very low budget and infinitely quotable (As was Spinal Tap) the fact that they took documented history, turned it on it's end, were able to still include clever poop and fart humor, and practically made every scene stand on it's own, is a testament to having those 6 Men's brains in the right place, at the right time in and gave us what may be the definitive comic lightning bolt. All of their work was equally smart, satirical and gut-busting, but this is likely their best. And many of us could sit in a room and recite every scene, word-for word, over and over, do it again the very next day and still laugh our asses off.
The Usual Suspects
Many of you may say that I should be ashamed of myself for not choosing The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, The Killers, Chinatown, Fargo, The Sting, Goodfellas, L.A. Confidential, or countless others. But those all had you knowing, for the most part (with a couple exceptions), whodunit and why. This one was the crime caperEST with a superstar cast of characters and twists like nobody's business. You didn't know who to trust and just who WAS Keyser Soze? If you were trying to guess and got it before the film ended or unfortunately heard about it and saw it anyway knowing, you really missed it. This film missed nothing. And unlike the many of the crime films I listed, it left you satisfied and fired up to watch it again to see what you really may have missed in the quagmire of it all. Even if you figured it out. I didn't figure it out at first. And still didn't want to on subsequent viewings. Is that weird? And how about that there practically wasn't even a crime per-say? How's THAT for a twist?!
Sure, Michael Moore gives you entertaining propaganda and Ken Burns is the master of the REAL historical cinematic document, but to follow two basketball playing, inner-city 12 year olds, watch them grow, mature and struggle for the next six years on film, takes; patience, perseverance, sleepless years, and a little good fortune to hone 250 HOURS of footage into a 3+ hour unexpected tale that has you cheering, shaking your head in disbelief and wondering what happens next. What Director Steven James and his fellow Producers Peter Gilbert and Frederick Marx discovered on this journey, is that the best thing about making a great Documentary: You cannot script real life. But when it does it for you better than anything you could have dreamed up on paper? That's magic. That's life, unscripted, captured on film. Documented. Slam dunk.
DRAMA - (Tie)
If you would like to discuss pure CRAFT, every film fan, filmmaker and film teacher MUST talk about this one. I believe it's a Federal Law. Citizen Kane is still lauded as one of, if not, the GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE. At the age of 26 Orson Welles was touched by the Gods (And had a very privileged upbringing when you come right down to it), and you cannot deny him the originality, breakthrough camera techniques, design and sheer balls he demonstrated in bringing this loosely interpretive biographical film of Newspaper magnate, and fascist American dictator, William Randolph Hurst. When you make a film like this, that at the time was blacklisted, underappreciated, and DEFINED what filmmaking was to be for the next 70 years, there's only one direction to go. Downhill. And that's what happened to Welles. He worked til he dropped, sure, and even showed up in The Muppet Movie. But the story behind this film, is nearly as spectacular, fascinating and tragic as the film itself.
Francis Ford Coppola and Al Pacino almost got fired from the project by the studio and they wanted Robert Redford to play Michael Corleone. Because a seemingly rogue Director, who took the lead after film school with contemporaries like Lucas, Spielberg, Bogdonavich and Scorsese, stuck to his literal guns and made the ultimate 'Family' film. He created a Crime saga. He orchestrated a Dramatic symphony. He made us an offer we couldn't refuse. This is another one of those perfect films. Like the works of Mozart, if you took out one note, changed one word, altered one scene or hired that other more famous Actor, it wouldn't work. Even when Coppola did make changes to release the chronological "Saga" edition of Parts I & II, it surprisingly made even more sense. The sequel is equally as compelling and outstanding, but I'm not going anywhere near Part III again. All I'm glad to know is that lucky for his Daughter, the Directing apple didn't fall far from the tree. And speaking of which, his wine is actually pretty good too.
I know what you're saying. Couldn't Star Wars be considered Sci-Fi? Yes. But Fantasy has it's origins based around mythos, creating an entire world and George Lucas has said on many occasions that Joseph Campbell, Folklore and Shakespearean themes influenced him greatly on the elements he incorporated into the story. Space was merely the setting, but the world he created was high fantasy. And like Orson Welles before him, Directors will list Star Wars as the film that changed the entire way a movie was imagined, made, marketed and sold as a modern day blockbuster epic. And JUST like Welles, Lucas peaked as a Director with the one that made his name an Icon. He never equaled the raw feeling, majesty, ingenuity and originality that made those of us at the age of 7, 8, 9 and older, see the frickin' thing 10 TIMES in the theater in that summer of 1977. I have to give kudos to Peter Jackson and The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, as he is the only Director able to come close to what Lucas achieved with a Fantasy franchise in scope and grandeur.
I keep mentioning the importance of Directors' influence upon other Directors, Actors, Producers, Writers and that their style, dedication to their craft and creativity has no choice but to jump start your imagination. Nearly every Director I have mentioned in this list have ALL, and I mean EVERY SINGLE ONE, listed Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa as one of their MAJOR influences. I too will concur. He was a master poet with his storytelling camera. A group of bandits invading a Village in 16th century Japan, do battle with seven Ronin (Samurai), who are hired by the Villagers to defend their harvest. All the Samurai have different character traits, strengths and weaknesses, but the last member, Actor Toshiro Mifune, is the one you root for and identify with. He was Kurosawa's Muse and appeared in many of his projects afterward. Many films have copied it's 'Recruit a band of Hero-types to complete a mission' and there have been the obligatory mediocre remakes, but this one still holds up after more than 50 years. And never watch a foreign film dubbed. It's stupid. Hear the beautiful language and learn to read subtitles. I do.
A Christmas Story
As a writer, I think I would like to be Jean Shepherd when I grow up. But since I'm never going to grow up, I can deal with not being him I suppose. But boy could he spin an intelligent Holiday yarn with such a wink and a nod. He wasn't the only reason a movie like this gets shown every season for 24 hours straight on one TV network. It's arguably the most popular and well-known Christmas tale outside of A Christmas Carol or It's A Wonderful Life. In fact, I hear Shepherd was a real pain-in-the-ass on the set, demanding, and a wee bit nuts. He was merely the provider of the source material. The MOST thanks are due to the the Director, Bob Clark, for bringing the 1940s Americana experience so vividly to life with wit, humor, pathos, peace on earth, good will to men and one Official Red Ryder carbine action 200 shot range model air rifle. And even he couldn't do it alone without the amazing performances of Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin and the entire cast and crew. This was also a great picture about love, Family and can stand up against any other animated or targeted Family demographic film. It's another example of those low budget, character study, lightning in a bottle productions that showed how much could come from so little. FA-RA-RA-RA-RA RA-RA-RA-RA. (Snicker) Yeah I know. But, it's so right.
What scares you the most? The dark? Serial Killers? Snakes? Spiders? Other words beginning with "S"? How about the Devil? If you believe in that sort of thing. William Friedkin was at the top of his game in 1972 with the TOTALLY AWESOME film The French Connection. He had Gene Hackman play Popeye Doyle, Roy Schieder was his partner and made a cool, anti-hero NYC Police story based on real Cop, Eddie Egan. After the success of his crime drama dealing with heroin dealers and corrupt cops, he decided to tackle the church and it's little, dirty secret known as Exorcism. It was so real. It seemed so real. His Docu-Drama style that worked so well with his grimy, NYC Cop story, worked a little TOO WELL for this subject. The other William, writer William Peter Blatty, did his homework when writing the book and took inspiration from an "actual" exorcism with a Maryland boy from a blue-collar family and changed it to a cutesy, white-collar, daughter of a movie star. Friedkin cast every role brilliantly, but 12 year old commercial Actress Linda Blair, stole the show. She self-admittedly said that she had no idea what she was doing, had never done a film and was playing make believe to the best of her abilities and according to the script. But with Friedkin's obsessively brutal Direction, Blatty's disturbing script, Dick Smith's frightening make-up, Ellen Burstyn's understandable hysterics, Max Von Sydow and Jason Miller masterfully tag-teaming with God, Mercedes McCambridge's dubbed, cigarette and booze fueled voice and a fearless stunt team of Men and Women being whipped around rooms and taking falls down 100 steps in Georgetown...an entire world was scared to death in 1974. And it still scares me when watching. It's not the Devil, but that wickedly creative team assembled. Much too vulgar a display of power.
Singing In The Rain
It was a testament to the age of the modern Movie Musical and the dawn of a shiny new era. All the leads could sing, dance, hoof, do acrobatics, and were charming, self-effacing and made you forget anything bad could happen in the world. Their biggest worry in the movie, or Silent Movie Star Don Lockwood's biggest worry, was everyone's in Hollywood at the time the movie was based on. Silent films were becoming talkies. And more specifically, with Al Jolson and The Jazz Singer, singing and dancing Musicals! People needed to forget that they were in the midst of a World War and escapism was the order of the day. Donald O'Connor told us to Make 'Em Laugh and Debbie Reynolds showed us that even those nobodies who have a dream, the talent and gumption to take a chance, would eventually get noticed. But what do we remember from one of the greatest Movie Musicals? Probably more than The Jets and The Sharks, The Lollipop Guild, The Rain In Spain, Tradition, Mary Poppins, Shall We Dance or life being a Cabaret? Gene Kelly, singin' and dancin' in The Rain. It just such a wonderful feeling. I CAIN'T STAIND IT!
North By Northwest
Hitchcock. Perhaps one of the greatest Directors who ever lived. Having one of the most popular, handsome and charismatic movie stars at the time, Cary Grant as his lead. It is another in those series of films that can cross so many genres; Crime, Suspense, Thriller, Adventure, but it constantly has you on the edge of your seat trying to figure out what happens next and who's who in this case of mistaken identity, deceptive riddle, wrapped in an enigma inside Lincoln's nose. You had even more star power with James Mason playing the heavy, Hitchcock's requisite blonde beauty, Eva Marie Saint and a very dashing bad guy, Martin Landau. Yes, even he was dashing, AND a bad guy. Bernard Herrmann did nearly all of Hitch's most effective soundtracks and this one ran the gamut of all the genres I listed here. Another masterful creative collaboration between the two and even the opening title sequence was stylish for the time. This film also introduces the infamous "MacGuffin"; the object, or device, in a film that everyone seems to be chasing, but has no relevance to the actual plot. Grant's mistaken identity "George Kaplan" may be that very device in this. And look for Alfred Hitchcock in the end of the opening credits. He makes a cameo in almost all his films.
The Princess Bride
For romance, is going to The Empire State Building the closest thing to heaven? Could you be friends with a woman and still want to have sex with her? Would you reject love entirely and hang out at a gas and sip on a Saturday night by choice? But for all you HARDCORES, would you DIE for love? Wesley and Princess Buttercup would. Rob Reiner again makes my list with a pure, complete and delightfully wondrous Fantasy film. And one of the most Romantic tales ever spun. It also works so effectively as a smart, irreverent comedy combined with an Errol Flynn-like adventure sensibility. There are chases, escapes, ROUSes, miracles, Giants and even Mandy Patinkin. Granted, he's not singing, but we love him anyway as he most likely utters the film's most memorable line. But at it's heart...there is True Love. First comes love, then comes Mawwwige.
Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
Is it possible I made up a sub-genre so that I could include Stanley Kubrick amongst my favorites? Mmmmmaybe. I've actually combined two legitimate movie genres because they're very similar in theme. Dr Strangelove neatly rides the line of both and gives me justification for such a move on my part. But fuck it. It's my favorite list...so there. Besides, I get to kvell about Peter Sellers again and Stanley Kubrick may just be on par with Hitchcock as far as pure Directing Genius. He was a perfectionist, obsessive and an odd, quirky soul. This film hits the mark as both a Black Comedy and a scathing Satire of the Cold War, Armageddon and Politics. Plus, you had Peter Sellers playing three different characters (And Kubrick allowed him to ad-lib a great deal of his script and dialogue), George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens and even a young James Earl Jones in one of his earliest roles. What it all adds up to is one of the best Satirical Black Comedies and best films ever. And if I HAD to pick MY FAVORITE FILM, if someone held a gun to my head and forced me to answer, this would be it. Unofficially.
Before Ridley Scott became a bit pretentious and overbearing with his 'Award Winning' films like Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and the unmentionable travesty that was Hannibal, his two earliest film(s); Alien, and of course, Blade Runner have still yet to be equaled as Sci-Fi masterworks. They both live in the a run down, dirty, and most likely, very probable future. Harrison Ford follows Raiders of The Lost Ark with his Hardboiled Sam Spade in Space...Rick Deckard. Phillip K. Dick's story 'Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep' was amazingly realized with such detail by Scott and presented on such a scale that I would not be surprised if the future 50 years from now was EXACTLY like it was pictured in this 1982 production. The design, effects, characters, storyline and execution was spellbinding for the time it was made. The same could even be said for Alien three years previous. Literally ahead of his time. Rutger Hauer's performance was especially haunting, controlled and groovy as the lead Replicant Roy Batty. "Batty". Yeah. He would've been SO COOL as Lestat if Ann Rice had her way back then.
Sean Astin established himself as a young, yet very underrated, Actor who could carry an entire movie with his turn as Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger. In a family of steelworkers, Rudy was destined to follow in his familial lineage. But this plucky real-life smallfry bucked the odds and was determined to play football for the late 60s/early 70s College Football Dynasty, Notre Dame. Even though Rudy didn't have the size, the grades or the athletic talent, he spent years following his dream, endured many hardships, defied the naysayers and made many of us cry like a little bitch with a skinned knee when he plays for only the last few minutes of the game, sacks the quarterback and then gets carried off that field at the end. Who says being too small was a handicap? Like a little bitch...with a skinned knee. Every. Time.
Jimmy Stewart, Farley Granger & John Dall are practically flawless in this lesser-known Hitchcock masterpiece. Montgomery Clift was supposed to play the John Dall part, Brandon. That would have been REALLY interesting and perhaps even better than it was, seeing as how it was based upon the infamous Leopold & Loeb case of two Homosexual lovers committing a murder. It was adapted for stage and then filmed by Uncle Alfred as if it were actually on a stage (Well a sound stage specifically). Only 10 edits were in the entire film. You can count them whenever the camera zooms into someone's back and then zooms out. And then there are a few random cuts too, BUT...think of how long it took for the rehearsal process, setting the lights in multiple rooms, camera moves and then everyone in cast and crew having to perform it near perfect. For multiple takes. At 5-10 minutes a piece. And if someone sneezes or drops a line at 9 minutes...MAN! Knowing this only adds to the suspense if you're aware of the fact. The real suspense starts from the end of the opening credits and doesn't let up for the next 80 minutes. It was never done before and hasn't been done since. No one is crazy enough to. He was and then "laughingly" passed it off as a cinematic stunt. This was ACTUAL cinematic genius at work. Hitchcock's cameo, it is suspected, is either walking down the street at the end credits or 55 minutes into the film as a silhouette in the back window cityscape.
Saving Private Ryan
There are an infinite number of variables and sub-categories when it comes to great War films; Epic (Braveheart, Gone With The Wind, Bridge on The River Kwai), Vietnam (Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket), WWI&II (Lawrence of Arabia, The Great Escape, Das Boot), but for the simple feeling of what war was like, without actually being there; the horror, the blood and guts, the fear, the emotional and mental torture, the fortitude, the hate, the Brotherhood and longing to go home, this is THE film. Steven Spielberg not only created a love letter for every veteran who fought, lived through and died in battle, but something akin to a work of art that is so real, it was as if you lived through The Great One yourself. Many Veterans have claimed to have either refused to watch it again, because it was so eerily accurate, or thanked Spielberg profusely for being able to recreate what it was really like and bring them a feeling of catharsis. Schindler's List had a similar effect. Exhausting, fulfilling, heartbreaking and ultimately, so powerful. Not to be watched without a strong constitution and/or Zoloft.
For the man who first came to prominence as Director Sergio Leone's 'The Man With No Name' in all those Spaghetti Westerns, not only did Clint Eastwood star with such charisma in the seminal epic Western; The Good The Bad an The Ugly, but he also must have paid attention when it came to Directing. This is the most complete Western I've experienced. I love John Wayne, Leone, John Ford and all the classics mind you. But you could practically taste the dirt, feel the pain, hear the bullets whizz past your face, see the cold rain hitting your boots and notice craggy wrinkles start to form on your skin throughout the entirety of this film. And with a cast of Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris AND Gene Hackman (Who took home a Best Supporting Oscar for playing Little Bill)? None better. And deserves got nothin' to do with it.
EXIT...STAGE LEFT EVEN!