Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Relative Nature of Listing Movies

My recent post on the updated AFI top 100 American movies was inspired by a visit to a music forum wherein the list was posted and debated. When the actual integrity of this list was brought into question, a fellow forum member mentioned that the AFI at least had a sense of history. To hammer the point home, he linked up the "Total Film" top 100 movies of all-time, as voted on by some 40,000 of that mag's readers.

1 Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
2 Fight Club
3 Pulp Fiction
4 The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King
5 The Shawshank Redemption
6 GoodFellas
7 The Godfather
8 The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring
9 Jaws
10 Donnie Darko
11 Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
12 The Usual Suspects
13 The Matrix
14 Raiders Of The Lost Ark
15 Se7en
16 The Godfather: Part II
17 Gladiator
18 Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
19 Aliens
20 Sin City
21 The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers
22 LA Confidential
23 Taxi Driver
24 Die Hard
25 Batman Begins
26 Back To The Future
27 Schindler’s List
28 Spider-Man 2
29 The Big Lebowski
30 Heat
31 Reservoir Dogs
32 Blade Runner
33 Terminator 2: Judgment Day
34 Alien
35 X-Men 2
36 Annie Hall
37 Léon
38 Casablanca
39 Apocalypse Now
40 Memento
41 Jurassic Park
42 It’s A Wonderful Life
43 One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
44 Monty Python And The Holy Grail
45 The Third Man
46 The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
47 Toy Story 2
48 A Clockwork Orange
49 Moulin Rouge!
50 The Apartment
51 The Wild Bunch
52 ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
53 Trainspotting
54 Raging Bull
55 City Of God
56 Stand By Me
57 The Thing
58 Scarface (1983)
59 Airplane!
60 The Silence Of The Lambs
61 Blue Velvet
62 Seven Samurai
63 Citizen Kane
64 2001: A Space Odyssey
65 Shaun Of The Dead
66 Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl
67 Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
68 Lawrence Of Arabia
69 Halloween
70 The Searchers
71 Rocky
72 Once Upon A Time In The West
73 Platoon
74 Kill Bill: Vol. 1
75 Magnolia
76 The Deer Hunter
77 The Shining
78 American Beauty
79 Fargo
80 Chinatown
81 Saving Private Ryan
82 Vertigo
83 King Kong (2005)
84 Goldfinger
85 The Wizard Of Oz
86 Dawn Of The Dead
87 Requiem For A Dream
88 The Terminator
89 Psycho
90 Brokeback Mountain
91 Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb
92 The Bourne Supremacy
93 The Incredibles
94 Some Like It Hot
95 Spirited Away
96 Rear Window
97 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
98 This Is Spinal Tap
99 Forrest Gump
100 The Exorcist

A list by "fans" will automatically be stocked with more "commercial" films, as they aren't (generally) ranking their choices with as many points of criteria as the critics use. Also, Total Film's readership is likely of a median age that indicates unless they are hardcore film nuts, their choices will lean towards the last 10-15 years. Thus, to criticize this list for not having any sense of cinematic history is ridiculous. Rather it would be prudent to savage it on the shit tastes of so many thousands.

Peter Jackson is clearly god to Total Film readers; I approve of the Lord of the Rings films (although they are ranked much too high here), but King Kong? Really? That's a travesty on par with Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho. I think Jackson got an Oscar revoked for putting that out.

The sequels at 28, 33, 35, Not on a list of best all-time movies. Fight Club at number 2 pretty much speaks for itself. Not unlike putting Choke on a list of 100 all-time best novels.

But there are great choices...Trainspotting, Stand By Me, Airplane, Shaun of the Dead, Goldfinger, LA Confidential. Also, major respect for rating Goodfellas in the top 10 (dear AFI, please grow balls re: Scorsese's greatest film) and for giving a spot to Empire Strikes Back, so clearly the finest of the Star Wars films (and number 2 on my personal favorite movies list).

I guess I should rant again about Willy Wonka not being there, but I'm much more intrigued by the fact that there are, per these rankings, 61 films better than Seven Samurai. Whoever didn't vote for Seven Samurai (or put it in your top 10) please understand: that movie is superior to any of your individual lives. If Seven Samurai were somehow to disappear from circulation (DVDs and tapes disintegrated, digital torrents deleted) the entire film industry would be irreparably decimated, but if any of you fell off the face of the Earth tomorrow, the few people who even had cause to care would lose interest after two weeks.

A fun list, then...maddening, perplexing, pleasing, hilarious. A good list should endeavor to be all those things and even more.

Friday, June 22, 2007

In 2016, "Knocked Up" Will Debut in the Top 50

Saw the AFI's updated "100 Years, 100 Movies" 10th anniversary edition.

I am tickled that a list has an anniversary edition. I love lists insofar as they concern topics I give a crap about, and well, who doesn't love to debate movies? Plenty of people, I'm sure, but the hell with that.

You will notice that a whopping 23 flicks got the heave-ho. Of those excised, I can only really bitch about Amadeus, which has a hilariously severe F. Murray Abraham performance and many Oscars to its credit. The biggest loser, though, is James Dean's acting legacy: Giant and Rebel Without a Cause, see ya. Dying young doesn't have the luster it used to, I guess.

Seems then that the updated list is more than anything a shot at "redemption" for the AFI. Thus, we have the debuts of The General (stunning debut at #18, to please the Keaton freaks), Nashville (Altman fanatics somehow still not satisfied), Do the Right Thing (AFI now comfortable in honoring Spike Lee now that he is 100% irrelevant), and Blade Runner (for the subterranean cinephiles). All of those films deserved to be on there in the first place. Can't say likewise for Titanic (look for that to be gone next list) or Shawshank Redemption (what is with the cult that has built for that film? Pure inexplicable).

And Toy Story. Hmm. Nah. First off, I oppose Tim Allen in all his forms; secondly, anything that makes kids that happy I am immediately wary of.

Crazed revisionism: Raging Bull 24 to 4? Hey, Marty got his Oscar, that's enough love. That is like his third best movie anyway (behind Mean Streets and Goodfellas). The Searchers up 84 spots to #12. The Searchers? The friggin' Searchers? Look also at the leap for The Unforgiven--Is nostalgia for Westerns the new nostalgia for Frank Capra films?

Deserved leaps: Vertigo and The Deer Hunter. I wonder if current affairs helped influence the jump of the latter.

Final weirdness: #39 Dr. Strangelove dropped 13 places; #40 The Sound of Music improved 15 spots. #33 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest dropped 13 digits and #34 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs rose 15 places. HMMM. Interesting coincidence in the numbers and placement, but an even more intriguing trend so far as edgy films falling a bit out of favor while family classics shoot up in the list. No real indictment on my part, just a notice I took.

However, no Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. So I'm still kinda on the "screw this list!" tip.

Friday, June 8, 2007

"Peanuts" Is Timeless, Pt. 2--Snoopy Weighs 23 Pounds

Despite the passive-aggressive pathos practically screaming from the pages once read, there is something comforting about Peanuts. The cover of the most recent Fantagraphics collection is itself a consolatory image: Linus Van Pelt sweetly snuggled with his security blanket.

It bodes especially well for the 7th of 25 promised volumes containing every Peanuts strip ever produced. Legendary animator Bill Melendez pens an unspectacular foreword, revelatory only for those unaware of the improbable origins of Charlie Brown and the gang on TV. Which has been told in many other books, frankly. Of much greater interest are the 150+ strips featured here which had not been reprinted since their original newspaper run. Among these are Linus' ill-fated run for class president, Snoopy in the hospital, and birds warring with signs. For fans like myself, who grew up with stacks of strip collections, an enthralling experience is guaranteed.

The very first strip sets the tone:

LUCY: "See? What did I tell you?"
LUCY: "This year is no better than the last one!"

Which Charlie Brown knows, loathe to admit defeat though he is. Lucy, though, seems determined to use the prematurely-established "blah"-ness of 1963 to fuel a steady diet of fury and crab. Sibling rivalry with Linus (one of the most well-developed fictional characters ever conceived) and unrequited love with Schroeder (eh, not so much) peppers the pages and encourages Schulz to essentially eliminate Violet, frequent Lucy partner.

Linus is the star of an early, successful run in which his visiting Grandma schemes to guilt him into giving up his blanket. The young boy wins out, and even gets the last, wise-beyond-his-years laugh.

Sally is beginning to show signs of her classic misplaced paranoia and rage, as when big brother takes her to the library and explains that the books cost nothing to read, as "This is all paid for by the city." Sally's reaction: "AH HA! They're trying to control our reading."

Snoopy shines, as per usual. Some fans may very well cling to this volume as the end of an era for the strip, as the next book will feature the debut of Snoopy's "Flying Ace" persona, a Walter Mitty turn that purists decry as the moment Peanuts transformed utterly from an existential wonderland starring preternatural young'uns into "The Snoopy Show, Kids Optional and More Often Than Not, Just Reacting to the Dog". The rise of the cute, fantastical beagle thus signalling the compromise of the artist, caving in to provide the masses with more of what they gravitated to in the first place.

Well, don't count me among the curmudgeonly ranks. Especially in this particular volume, most of Snoopy's shining comic moments involve the kids in active roles. The 1/27/63 strip features Charlie Brown and Lucy wracking their brains over how to keep Snoopy suitably warm as he dozes atop the doghouse. When Linus rather levelheadedly suggests that Snoopy can easily beat the cold by sleeping inside the doghouse, he is greeted by all with upturned eyes and grimaces. (Nice example of Schulz confronting creative license, too.)

There are also two Sundays (2/17/63 and 1/22/64) wherein Snoopy, faced with a challenge, nonchalantly sacrifices the nearest kid to save his own ass. This book has especially strong Sundays: "You have a little brother who loves you" (6/30/63), "I had to hit him quick, he was beginning to make sense" (8/4/63), "We prayed in school today" (10/20/63), and Lucy gives the best psychiatric advice ever (9/22/63). Two Sundays also feature title squares of neat artistic turns: Snoopy as Frankenstein's monster for 5/17/64 and the astonishingly playful 5/31/64, where Linus finds that doubting the veracity of "Three Little Pigs" will earn you the dog-food scented wrath of the beagle. The most delightful touch is, again, the starter square, where Snoopy is seen hiding (mischievous smile and all) behind a hut made of hay that has LINUS PIG on the door.

That's not all there is...the 2/10/63 Sunday sold at auction in excess of 30 grand just this year, and the 8/11/63 Sunday shines with a value unable to be measured by tangible currency, as Snoopy opens his heart to his bunny friends--Frieda could never understand why Snoop shirks his canine duty to hunt the little fellas and would rather let them rest atop his stomach, which has grown especially fat for this period. He lays down on the doghouse and it looks like Schulz drew his head and feet at either end of a camel hump. 1964 closes with more surface experimentation, as five Sundays from 11/29 onward have their content neatly summarized by "Happiness Is..." squares within the first panel of the second strip. As far as taking chances, it beats hell out of Lucy golfing with the big folks.

Throughout, Charles Schulz' drawings display a flair for being apropos and captivating, the gift of a man with a keen mind for the nifty curve to further humanize his world. It goes beyond "cute" or "impressive"--it's the addition of another dimension.

There are patchy spots: 5 was a great idea for a character, but not a great character; Schroeder and Lucy bicker until I just want them both to get run over with a Zamboni; and Snoopy's hospital stay is little more than an excuse for Schulz to fill up an entire word balloon with the full name of the medicine Snoopy was treated with.

Compared to the highest points, trifles are tolerated. Joe Shlabotnik's ignoble demotion to the minors tears at the soul of Charlie Brown, who sees in the bumbling pro an adult version of himself. While writing his idol a letter of support, he finally breaks down into sobs. It is less funny than touching, and deepens the readers appreciation of both Charles'.

Finally--I dog on Schroeder. Generally I find him to be as bland and "nothing" as Charlie Brown regards himself. Blonde piano prodigy with tunnel vision. So? Why should I care about that? But Charles Schulz, being a genius, knew how to make diamonds of dust. The panel below is from a strip in this book and has reached a new audience through band message boards on the Internet, several of said forums featuring members who like to use it as their "signature picture". I told you this is timeless!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

"Peanuts" Is Timeless, Pt. 1

When Charles Schulz passed away in 2000, on the same day that his final original "Peanuts" strip appeared in newspapers worldwide, the media coverage was actually respectful and level-headed, recognizing the near-unfathomable influence had and contribution made by a man who drew children and animals for 50 years of his life. It seemed, on that dour February Sunday, that all the right things were said, and all the right clips were shown.

One remembrance, however, missed the mark; and right at the very end, to boot. Can't recall offhand which network it was, but I do have it on tape somewhere (I taped a total of 5 hours in Schulz TV tribute coverage). As the piece ended, the male voiceover repeated the words of Schulz' final strip and added his own journalistic period: "'Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus and can I ever forget them?' You can bet it will be a long time before any of us will be able to forget them, either."

While I suppose hedging your bets is commendable, the likelihood of "Peanuts" ever slipping from shared consciousness is right up there with Meg White learning how to do a proper drum fill.

A key factor is the instant and resonant relateability of so many of the strips themselves. The baseball runs speak to the incessant losing streak many people call life; Linus' security blanket is a nifty stand-in for any number of emotional crutches clung to by millions; and who has never felt the pain/pang of unrequited love? And it goes on.

But who knew Schulz could predict the future? Who knew that this lifelong fan of the Giants baseball team would write a baseball strip, so hilarious in its absurd inevitability, that Giants fans of 2007 could relate to through bitter tears?

Simply brilliant.

(Jury is still out on whether a strip run from this same period where Snoopy is put in the hospital was animal lover Schulz' warning about the Mike Vick dog-fighting controversy.)

Sunday, June 3, 2007

I Don't Watch Blues Music, and I Don't Listen to "Grey's Anatomy"

Hagerstown residents were too fraught with ambivalent tension over this weekend's Western Maryland Blues Fest--the 2007 version of which featured two artists that I'd actually heard of; no, not exactly a huge fan of the genre--to provide a weeks worth of thrilling "You Said It" discourse in the Herald-Mail. But somehow, amid all the grumbling over the imminent further glut of downtown traffic and wistful yearning for some ambition and ingenuity of their own, natives of the land Little Heiskell watches over (as well as those in the surrounding subscribing areas) made the Tuesday and Wednesday editions decent reading.

First, Tuesday, 5/29.

"Congratulations to the South Hagerstown High alumni group who had a wonderful dinner for us Saturday evening at the old remodeled school gym. It was fantastic. Lou Scally was the DJ..."

Ok, stop. End transmission. Cease further correspondence. Lou freakin' Scally on the ones and twos? "Lyin' Lou", the man so ineffably cool that he had a goddamn alley named after him...this dude manned the turntables at a party? Talk about events that need to be put on YouTube. Especially if he played this song:

Wednesday, 5/30

"Bothered, bewildered, disillusioned, and very disappointed in the last episode of Grey's Anatomy last week on ABC. These writers better get their act together, or they're going to be losing a lot of good faithful listeners...."--BOONSBORO

Eh, that's why I don't listen to the TV as much as I use to; I find it much more personally satisfying to watch a good book.

"President Bush is the best president that this country has ever had, including Lincoln and Washington. Make no mistake about it."--ROHRERSVILLE

All right, that's it. I am taking your hat and you will not get it back until you stop being stupid.

"I do delivery around town, so I ride the streets of Hagerstown like all day long, and it's just amazing at how many adults you see out, hanging out and just walking around, doing nothing--or pushing 10 kids around. Does anybody work around here? No wonder our economy is so bad."--HAGERSTOWN

The economy would be in better shape if people got paid $8.50 an hour for plopping their morbidly, sadly obese selves on their front steps and having loud half-conversations with friends/family. If certain unwashed men got an extra $6.75 for every time they yelled almost-hilariously inappropriate comments to me as I walked to work downtown, it just might fill the emotional and moral void that threatens to suck them, and the women and children they routinely abuse and isolate, into existential oblivion. Oh, who am I kidding? It would just be used to purchase more Schlitz. (You know, if you're gonna destroy yourself with alcohol, at least pick a decent beer. The similarity between Schlitz and the word "shit" is too perfect to be a cute coincidence.)