Monday, January 13, 2014

Movie Monday: The "Gotta See Movies" Edition

I found a really nifty book at the library the other day, "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Jay Schneider. This particular copy is the 5th anniversary edition, which is, according to Wikipedia, actually the 3rd edition (yeah, it was confusing for me, too), published by Quintessence books in 2008. There are updated editions, the most recent being the 5th edition, published in 2012. It would be interesting to get hold of that and see what's been added since the edition my library has. But, you know, when you're dependent on the library for books, as I am, you learn to work with what you've got.

At any rate, it's a fun book, not necessarily the kind you read straight through (although you can), and certainly not the kind you tote around with you in the print edition (this edition is 960 pages and weighs a lot). But, you can dip into it if you're looking for a good movie to watch, and you can use it as a reference to see if the movies you like best made the list. Or, you can do as I did and sit down and count how many of the listed movies you've already seen.

I won't list all the films on the list that I've seen, because it turns out that I've seen precisely 221 of them, starting on the first movie included(they're listed chronologically), Georges Melies 1902 classic "A Trip to the Moon", and ending with Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" (2006). That's not the last movie listed in this edition; that distinction belongs to 2007's "The Atonement", which I have not seen.

This is not necessarily a "best of" list, at least as far as I'm concerned; certainly, there are films that I've seen on the list that are not among my favorites: 1997's "Titanic"; "The Rapture", from 1991; "Drugstore Cowboy", from 1989; "The Princess Bride" and "Moonstruck", both from 1987; 1984's "The Natural"; "The Sting", from 1973. You'll notice that there are Academy Award winners and nominees among those. "Titanic", "Moonstruck", and "The Sting" were all nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards; "Titanic" and "The Sting" both won the Best Picture Oscar, and while "Moonstruck" didn't win Best Picture, it did win several awards, including Best Actress for Cher. Additionally, "The Princess Bride" has become a cult favorite. I thought others on the list that I've seen were very well-made films, but I didn't personally like them for specific reasons. Hayao Miyazaki's anime classic "Spirited Away" (2001) and Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull" (1980) are among those. "Spirited Away" bothered me for reasons that I can't quite put my finger on, even today; it was beautiful but I found it very disturbing. I don't like boxing, so "Raging Bull" wasn't really my cup of tea.

But, some of my favorite films are also on the list. Starting with the silents, "The Unknown" (1927) and "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928) are both on the list. So is Dreyer's "Vampyr" (1932), which is one of the most spookily atmospheric films I've ever seen. "King Kong" (1933), "Casablanca" (1942), "Double Indemnity" (1944), "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" (1947), and "White Heat" (1949) are all there, too. So are "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955), "Goldfinger" (1964), "A Hard Day's Night" (1964), "Harold and Maude" (1971), "The Godfather" (1972), "Chinatown" (1974), "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975), and a whole lot of other films I love. All three "Star Wars" films made the list, and so did all three installments of "Lord of the Rings".

One of the cool things about the book is that it (or at least the edition I'm looking at) has a checklist of all the films included at the front of the book, so you can keep track as you see films on the list. This is appropriate; just since I checked the book out of the library, I've seen three films on the list that I hadn't seen previously - 1949's "The Third Man", directed by Carol Reed and starring Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles, the Lana Turner/John Garfield noir classic "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946), and Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope" (1948), which starred James Stewart, John Dall, and Farley Granger. "Rope" was especially interesting. It is an experimental film that Hitchcock filmed in long takes and then edited to appear as if nearly the whole film was done in one long take. Based partly on the Leopold and Loeb murder case from 1924, the mystery isn't much of a mystery - it's more a case of whether or not the murderers will be found out - and the acting isn't always that great, but it is nonetheless fascinating for the techniques that Hitchcock used to make the film.

Well, since I've seen 221 of the films listed in the book, I guess that means I've got 780 left to go. This is not to say that I plan to plow through the whole book and see every movie listed. I just can't see any reason why I'd be interested in seeing "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" (1965) or "The Evil Dead" (1982). And as many times I've tried to sit through "Blade Runner" (1982), I've fallen asleep that many times, despite the fact that I'm definitely a Harrison Ford fan and I love science fiction. Still, this book is a good place to find suggestions if you're looking for a good movie to watch.

It is also a good place to discover film trivia. I didn't know until I started looking through this book, for example, that the first sound film in Britain was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. I also didn't realize that artist Salvador Dali was involved for a time in writing screenplays in collaboration with Luis Bunuel. And there's a lot more information where that came from.

As I said at the beginning of this post, the first "must see" film listed in "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" is "A Trip to the Moon". As it turns out, the full film is available on You Tube. This print is just under 13 minutes long (and its length can differ depending on projection speed), which doesn't seem like much to the modern viewer, but when you think that this was made at the dawn of filmmaking ("A Trip to the Moon" was made just six years after the first public exhibition of motion pictures) and that even at the time it was made, most films were not more than two or three minutes long, it becomes clearer how ground-breaking this film is:

All I can say is, try to find this book if you love films. And then, go watch a movie.

No comments: