Monday, November 26, 2007

Tom Charity's 100 DVDs wrap up

Anyone who likes reading about film might like to check out Tom Charity's 100 DVDs wrap-up, which appeared in the Vancouver Sun recently and (at least at the moment) is online. Charity tends to be more generous to more commercial films than I am; he liked No Country for Old Men - see the comments below my review of it, a few posts down - and disagrees somewhere with me, I think on this blog, about the merits of Borat, which I see mostly as a Jewish artist slyly (and quite viciously) using American credulity to viciously satirize Muslim backwardness, even if the character of Borat is not religious per se. It's simply too angry a film for me to want to embrace it. Charity also includes a few films on his list, like LA Confidential, that I find over-hyped and thoroughly negligible. Still: he writes well about film (and gets paid for it, which is rare in my case), he's written a book about Cassavetes, who remains a heroic figure to me; and he can outdo me at "Golden Age of Hollywood" cinema trivia any day of the week. So he's a sempai even if I want to quarrel with him at times.

By the way, if I were doin' a top 100 DVD list for Sun readers, of the ones I've seen, I certainly would agree with #91 (the Cassavetes box), #87 (The Hustler), #63 (Edvard Munch), #50 (Psycho), #46 (The Thin Red Line), #16 (The Gospel According to St. Matthew), #14 (In a Lonely Place), and #12 (The Battle of Algiers). If I were to draw up my own top-100 must-see cinema lists, even with my intent to be less of a populist educator and more of an elitist provocateur, I'd agree completely with the inclusion of these DVDs. That's about it.

That's not to say that I disagree with the rest of his list, tho'. There's a few films that I consider odd choices and would quibble with, but I'm in the same ballpark: I don't think the BRD Trilogy (#11) is actually Fassbinder's finest work, preferring his smaller scale, darkly humourous domestic dramas from a few years previous (Fear of Fear, Martha, The Merchant of Four Seasons, Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven, and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul are the ones I most love, of the dozen or so Fassbinder's I've seen, and I'd probably choose the last one on that list as the one people should seek out first. I like it so much I have a framed German poster for it on my wall, under the original title, Angst Essen Seele Auf).

Speaking of New German Cinema, I also don't think I'd include #17, Wings of Desire, which, tho' I'm fond of it, now seems like "the beginning of whatever Wenders we have now," versus the Wenders we'd all like to have... none of which is really available with English subtitles on DVD, unless you're in Australia, save for The American Friend; that would be my token Wenders, until Kings of the Road and Alice in the Cities get distribution.

More quibbles: Ordet (#96) I could not enjoy, because it takes an idea seriously that I simply find ridiculous, that of resurrection based on faith; I think The Passion of Joan of Arc is a much more important Dreyer film. The only Scorsese film I care about now is Who's That Knocking at My Door, his first and, it seems, most heartfelt/passionate film; Casino IS a masterfully made film, as is, I suppose, Raging Bull, but Scorsese is so over-hyped that, for the time being, I just don't care, and am content to leave these films in distant memory. In terms of Peckinpah, The Getaway kicks The Wild Bunch's ass; and Michael Mann's Manhunter holds up under repeated viewings much better that Heat (#31). I like The Long Goodbye (and even McCabe and Mrs. Miller) so much more than Nashville I'd let them take it's place (#48), even if Nashville is more important, objectively; and I think Seven holds up better than Fight Club, even if Fight Club is more ambitious. In terms of Bresson, I loved Pickpocket, and fell asleep during Au Hazard Balthasar, which I haven't gotten back to, so - admitting that I haven't done enough Bresson to really be a fair judge, I'd stick Pickpocket on anyhow. Call me Paul Schrader. And L'Eclisse is an Antonioni that I really don't think has aged well; I'd point people to The Passenger or Blow Up first, since Zabriskie Point isn't available yet. Finally, as far as minor quibbles go, I don't think that I'd stick Winter Light (49) up as my "token Bergman." My favourite Bergman is The Passion of Anna, but it's so fuckin' bleak a vision of humanity I'd probably point Sun readers at Through a Glass Darkly, instead; you have to break people in easily. (Then again, you can only get Winter Light in Region 1 format if you buy the box with Through a Glass Darkly in it). I'd probably also include a couple of other Bergman's; one Bergman isn't really enough.

Most of the list, really, seems to be written from a somewhat educational point of view: if you're going to be in the know about cinema, you've got to start somewhere, and that seems to be why North by Northwest, Vertigo, Rear Window, and Psycho are on the list - or Citizen Kane, or The Searchers, or The Rules of the Game, or... . I could hardly quarrel with their inclusion, though none are favourites of mine, or even films I presently own. I'm not quite sure that people don't already know about these films, but if the purpose of the list is educating Sun readers (who, I guess, ARE largely non-cinephiles), I guess I can see why they're up there.

The only surprise on the list - a film I haven't seen in a long time, and didn't expect anyone would be claiming as a classic - is Cutter's Way. I might check that out again, actually. I remember being shocked at how good John Heard was - I had no idea he had it in him.

Full disclosure: films on the list I have not seen: #3, Tokyo Story (I've seen Late Spring and Floating Weeds and am not particularly keen on Ozu); #7, In the Mood for Love (I haven't gotten to Wong Kar Wai; I was put off by the one film of his I tried, ChungKing Express, and haven't returned); #8, Hoop Dreams; #15, The Shop Around the Corner; #19, The River; #22, The Leopard; #23, The Lady Eve; #25, The Wind Will Carry Us (tho' it's around here somewhere); #26, Code Unknown (tho' I liked Cache and to a lesser extent The Piano Teacher, the only Haneke I've seen); #27, Some Like It Hot (the only one I'm really embarrassed about, particularly since I really like Billy Wilder, and absolutely love his film The Apartment, which would be my Wilder entry, alongside, maybe, Ace in the Hole and Sunset Boulevard); #33, A Canterbury Tale; #34, Bringing Up Baby; #39, La Belle Noiseuse (my one Rivette experience, Paris Belongs to Us, was less than riveting); #41, YiYi; #45, Lovers of the Arctic Circle, which is one of a very small number of films on the list I've never even heard of; #50 - I've seen some Buster Keaton, but certainly not enough; #53, Toy Story (and if I were going to put an animated film on such a list, Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind would be the one, or maybe Spirited Away); #56, A Nos Amours (for a Cassavetes fan, I've seen little Pialat); #57 (blush), Red River; #59, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; #64, Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales (I tried Rohmer when I was in my early 20's; I may have been too young, but I enjoyed it so little I have had no inclination to go back, despite some earnest urgings of cinephiles I respect); #65, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, another film I don't even know; #73, The Documentaries of Louis Malle (haven't seen a one); #78, Sansho the Bailiff (just haven't gotten around to it); #81, The Big Heat (ditto); #83, Sweet Smell of Success (ditto); #85, Ratcatcher (ditto); #86, To Be or Not to Be; #92, Nobody's Fool; #93, Children of Paradise; #94, The Decalogue (I've seen A Short Film about Killing and, to be honest, wasn't that excited by it); #99, Birth; and #100, A.I., which I have no intent of seeing. Spielberg couldn't pay me to write about him (tho' I do like that Charity calls him "needy," and I get a secret kick out of his more misanthropic, people-getting-eaten fare: Jurassic Park II is actually my fave of his films. Spielberg doesn't really need our help, tho').

Here are a few what-the-fuck omissions:

Um, Tarkovsky, Tom? NO Tarkovsky? SOME people who read the Sun must be up for it. No Nic Roeg (Bad Timing, at least, surely...)? No Bela Tarr? No Dusan Makavejev (Tom: wouldn't you love to see what Sun readers would make of Sweet Movie? You could put it close to the end of the list, so as not to lose your job...).

No Jim Jarmusch? No Lars von Trier? No John Sayles? No Sirk?

No M? No Wages of Fear? (No Clouzot at all?). No Maltese Falcon? What about Kubrick's The Killing?

Atanarjuat is fine, but what about Hard Core Logo, or Last Night, or some Guy Maddin? Is The Fly really the BEST Cronenberg film? (It's certainly the one Sun readers are most likely to appreciate, but, well... you see what I'm sayin'). What about Lynne Stopkewich? Atom Egoyan? We Canadians need our limited cultural institutions flattered, dontcha know?

And what about a couple of political documentaries? Winter Soldier? Hearts and Minds? In the Year of the Pig?

Token experimental cinema: the Criterion Brakhage box, no?

For a Cassavetes fan, you don't seem that excited about American cinema of the 1970's. What about Scarecrow? Blow Out? Deliverance? The Gambler? Badlands? Electra Glide in Blue? All of these are films within the range of the Sun readership, and maybe not as familiar to them as some of the films you've told them about (I don't really understand the recommend-films-they-already-know-and-love tendency in listmaking, frankly). Mikey and Nicky?

What about those few truly great independent American films to emerge in recent years - Happiness? Old Joy? Police Beat? Safe?

And I'd put Romero's Dawn of the Dead up, on general principles, even if zombies are being overused lately. Not enough horror cinema, or transgressive cinema, on the list. Visitor Q? (yeah, right).

There's a bunch else. Maybe I'd draw the American content from Jonathan Rosenbaum's alternate AFI list - now THERE's an intimidating list of movies (I mean, I haven't even seen about 70 of them... it might as well be entitled " great American movies I've seen that you haven't!") There must be a ton of things I'm forgetting. Tom, if you comment - if you could do it over, would you add anything to the list?

More of Tom Charity's reviews can be found on Rotten Tomatoes by searching for "Tom Charity" under "critics." Y'all might also be interested in my interview with Tom Charity about a rare Cassavetes screening here a couple of years ago.

Uh: and now I'm gonna go see a movie with a friend.


Tom said...

Okay, I can't resist! So, yes, you're right to deduce I saw it primarily an educational exercise, but also (I should hope) entertaining. You have to bear in mind it wasn't presented as simply a list of titles, each came with 200 or carefully weighed words of wisdom from yours truly. These may or may not have been enlightening to a cineaste such as yourself… given the number of films you fess up to not having seen, perhaps they would have been!

We could bounce the quibbles back and forth all night, no doubt, and frankly anyone who thinks The Getaway kicks ass on The Wild Bunch must have quite the stubborn streak… though for the record, my favourite Peckinpahs would be Pat Garrett and Alfredo Garcia. My favourite Altman: a toss up between Long Goodbye and McCabe. But I'll stand by Winter Light and L'eclisse, Heat, Balthazar and Fight Club (flawed, certainly, but in a different league to Seven).

re Canadian pride... you overlook Norman McLaren. But I will admit, you could fill the Albert Hall with the Canadian movies I haven't seen. Whether they constitute serious omissions on the list I rather doubt.

Cronenberg: well, it was a toss up, probably my favourite is Dead Ringers but there is another consideration you fail to acknowledge: this is billed as a list of Greatest DVDs. Therefore my choices were also made with a view to the quality of the DVD transfer, the supplementary features, packages, etc. That's why I went for the BRD Trilogy over the superior early Fassbinders you mention (though today I would probably choose Berlin Alexanderplatz, which wasn't available at the time).

What else? I love Rosenbaum's alternate list. As a matter of fact the original commission was to use the (boring boring boring) AFI list as the basis for the series, but I suggested it would be more fun to do our own.

At the same time I was stuck with the burden of "Greatest"... I wanted the selections to live up to that standard, even as I tried to expand the field of debate a little bit. Is Electra Gilde in Blue one of the 100 greatest films (or dvds)? I don't think so, but I suspect we would agree the whole notion of choosing 100 greatest is flawed, probably futile. (And I will accept that Cutter's Way and Nobody's Fool may also fall short on that score, but I love them both.)

Omissions I regret now... well, the last slot was the toughest because I had about 50 titles on my shortlist: Romero for sure. Fuller. Verhoeven. Brakhage. I regret I couldn't persuade the Sun to add a zero and make it the top 1000. Now I'm out of print in my hometown and can't supplement the soon to be obsolete DVD collection so rashly.

One last thing, I don't know if it made Rotten Tomatoes yet but I liked The Mist quite a bit.

ammacinn said...

I sincerely do think The Getaway, in terms of craft and storytelling, is a better-made film than The Wild Bunch, which I found rather uneven and not wholly satisfying, when last I saw it; but I also like the sentiments of the film far more, the emotional pull of it, and I'm not sure that's not good enough reason to prefer it. But I'd also put Pat Garrett and Alfredo Garcia above The Wild Bunch, too... or maybe even Straw Dogs, which exerts a strange fascination, despite being completely unforgivable politically (I find it bizarre how certain factions are trying to reclaim that film and make it somehow a liberal anti-violence film; I sought out the Criterion DVD just to listen to Prince's commentary, then promptly re-sold it. Pure balderdash.) But all that's nitpicking; I can see why Peckinpah needed to be represented and why you chose that film to do it.

You're right, I DID miss Norman McLaren. Haven't actually picked up the NFB box, but it looks pretty amazing. I neither quibbled with it nor agreed with it because I haven't actually seen it - all I've seen of his work has been on VHS, truth be known. I'll get around to it.

And no, I don't think Electra Glide is one of the 100 greatest films - far from it - but it's a damnsite more interesting than Fargo, or Heat, or LA Confidential, or...! (It was really just an example, tho', an item in a list of whatever gritty 70's films came to mind. Actually, I'd say Five Easy Pieces is more significant! Didn't come to mind last night, for some reason).

Anyhow, I'm resolving to fill a few holes, in terms of Hollywood studio classics. Rio Bravo is on the menu in the near future - if I'm going to be referring to it in reviews of films like The Mist, I guess I need to have actually seen it... will now go check RT to see what you say about The Mist.

I share your excitement that Berlin Alexanderplatz is out!

ammacinn said...

Tom Charity's review of The Mist is here:

Like Ebert, he avoids mentioning political subtext (maybe people are being shied away from that reading because they're aware both the story and screenplay were written before 9/11?).