Friday, November 14, 2008



So here I was, peacefully navigating through the benign streams of the World Wide Internets, when I was tagged (in a very general way by old pal Larry Aydlette, and more specifically by Bill R.) for the A to Z Film List meme currently coursing through the arteries of the blogosphere. (Is it a mixed metaphor if you have to imagine the corporeality of one of the metaphor’s elements? I’m just curious…) Anyway, the general idea of the meme is that the respondent name 26 films, one for each letter of the alphabet, which somehow represents the author in some way-- Larry constructed his entirely of films noir, thrillers and detective movies; Bill, on the other hand, went for a more generalized representation of his tastes in films, and wondered out loud what it meant that there were so few horror movies on his list.

But I am taking Larry’s notion that the list be constructed in any way and to represent anything that the author sees fit, as long as it adheres to the one hard and fast rule-- the one that insists entries that start with “The” be classified not as “T” entries but instead by the letter that begins the second word of the title, per classical alphabetization standards—therefore, The Green Slime is a “G” entry. I decided, rather than trot out another version of my top 100 (or in this case top 26) movies, I’d try something a little different-- it was apparent this would be a necessity when I saw Bill’s list and realized that if I stayed in a generalized arena I could probably just cut and paste 80% of his list and call it my own. So, in a hopefully not too annoying attempt to cut a slightly different trail through the brush, I decided that I would make my list entirely out of movies that were either much better than their reputations, or movies that were less likely to be on the tops of many readers’ minds, especially when it comes to favorites-oriented projects like this. The fact that I am far less well-rounded and esoterically experienced than potential players like Girish, Filmbrain or Brian Darr may cast this second part of my classification in a possibly unintentionally humorous light (“He thinks no one’s heard of that?!”). But forward I sally nonetheless, never being one to actively resist the opportunity to appear foolish. What follows is an A to Z list undeniably and primarily populated by mainstream films, many of which have the reputation of being dogs of various breeds, many of which may not be as familiar to some readers as others, but all of which are, in one form or other, available to view online or on DVD. The intent, really, is simply to jog memories and, of course, to cast a light on some favorites of mine, the titles of which usually don’t get bandied about in a discussion of what makes a good film. That is the one thing these films, the disreputable, the disavowed, the financially disappointing, all have in common—they are genuine pleasures, not at all guilty ones, and they all carry my most sincere recommendation.



(David Fincher; 1992) It may never be fashionable to appreciate David Fincher's feature film debut, this much-maligned chapter (held in none-too-high regard by the director himself) in the apparently ongoing (as long as there's a Predator to smack down) Alien saga. But there's awful beauty in Fincher's relentlessly downbeat, religiously tinged film, and as an intellectual extension of the original film's hushed B-movie moodiness, Alien 3's bleak existential inevitability has it all over James Cameron's more immediately entertaining gung-ho militaristic revisionism of the series' powerful maternal obsessions. Ripley's sacrifice at the end of this film is the chillingly resonant punctuation mark this series truly deserved. (Too bad the allure of potential further profits couldn't leave a good thing, even a relative box-office flop like this one, alone for long.)


Robert Altman; 1976) Altman's Bicentennial celebration took the country's celebratory tendency toward self-mythologizing (never more exuberantly on display than during this 200th-year party) and turned it on its sow's ear, exposing the spirit of determination colored by the paranoia and fear jangling around inside the American Dreamscape. As I wrote recently on the occasion of the death of Paul Newman, "(The actor's) Buffalo Bill is a fool haunted by the demons of his own insecurity, his own knowledge of his inability to even come close, as a man, to the epic shadow he has already begun to cast over the nation’s view of itself. The actor’s piercing blue eyes have never seemed as haunted as they do peering out from the bewigged leonine visage of Bill Cody in full performance regalia, as he simultaneously embodies the full bluster of American manifest destiny and cocks an ear toward the voices echoing in his head that will constantly remind him, in the night, of the bitter truth behind that bluster." Here is a rendering of coarse, vital Americana that, while not as as vibrant and rich as Nashville, can stand with that landmark film as an important part of a great American director's great national portrait.


(Ron Shelton; 1994) Here is one of the best movies about baseball, albeit one with the least actual baseball played in it. Shelton's subject is the elusive nature of heroism, and what better avenue to examine that subject than through the dark glass of the life of one of the sport's greatest competitors and most reviled figures. (Shelton's next movie will be an adaptation of the book revolving around the BALCO-Barry Bonds investigation, Game of Shadows.) Tommy Lee Jones' performance as Cobb is at times hard to bear, so raw and unmerciful is its tenor and aggression. But that was the real-life Cobb too, a man who played hard, hated perhaps harder, and embodied a strain of heroism combining respect, dedication and unbridled fury that seems more inextricable from our national character with each passing year.


(Brian De Palma; 1980) I had to include this brilliant movie as a prime example of a title that hardly deserves the reputation it has in some quarters, as the most egregious example of artistic cannibalism by a director who would be nothing were it not for his ability to subsist off the collected works of Alfred Hitchcock. De Palma is merely the most open of directors about his influences. But how many willing to level this age-old charge have noticed how dissimilar the movies are from their supposed sources of inspiration? Does Dressed to Kill feel anything like Psycho? No, it is, whether you like it or not, its own beast, a creation forged in the feverish imagination of a director who has a lot more on his mind-- certainly in this movie-- than just empty homage. De Palma uses Hitchcock-- and Antonoini, and Powell, and many others-- as jumping-off points toward fulfilling an artistic geography that, at its most potent (as it is here), mixes fear and sex and comedy like no other director ever has. A De Palma movie is as easily recognizable as a Hitchcock film, yes, but not just because they share some of the same elements. In modern Hollywood, it's a sick joke, one worthy of one of his own movies, that this director should be held up as an example of someone bereft of an original thought.


(Robert Aldrich; 1973) A great, underrated masterpiece of spectral existentialist machismo from an vastly underrated director. The movie, about a symbolic battle for primacy between a seasoned hobo (Lee Marvin) and a psychotic railroad conductor (Ernest Borgnine), avoids easy sentimentalism like the plague. (Not for nothing did the movie's initial ad campaign show Lee Marvin as king of a garbage heap.) As I wrote here two years ago, "Emperor of the North looks, to these eyes, like the director’s most sustained, well-paced, crisply edited and viscerally imagined film, surely the zenith of his career as an 'action director.'”


(Errol Morris; 1997) Morris may have made more socially significant documentaries, but he's never made one that taps into the human soul as deeply as this one does. A quadtych of portraits, of a lion tamer, a topiary gardener, a robotics engineer and a man obsessed with mole rats, that eloquently illustrate the desire/need for man to impose control upon the essentially uncontrollable. FC&OOC emerges as a superbly sympathetic symphony of eccentricity, a moody and stylistically eclectic tone poem in the guise of a standard talking-heads piece that quickly shreds all allegiance to that form as it takes flight and defines itself as something entirely unique. Just like its four subjects.


(Sidney Gilliatt; 1947) A stark and subtly creepy British murder mystery set in a military hospital during World War II, Green for Danger is captivating and dryly, mordbidly funny throughout. The movie is shot through with the fresh devastation England was still processing in the shadow of the war's conclusion and manages to make that devastation part of the framework of the picture without ever becoming turgid and heavy-handed. Alastair Sim's performance as Inspector Cockrill is a gem, heading a peerless cast that includes Trevor Howard, Rosamund John, Leo Genn and the profoundly sexy Sally Gray, all gorgeous eyes, insinuating looks and smoky tones as one of the nurses both in danger and under suspicion as a murderer continues his deadly work.


(Stephen Herek; 1998) A strange little comedy that deserves a closer look, and far less bile than it has managed to generate amongst those who even remember it exists. Murphy is an evangelist of sorts who is nearly run over by a shopping network marketing genius (Jeff Goldblum). The marketing whiz the saves his own job by turning Murphy into a bizarre basic-cable phenomenon, grafting the preacher's religious fervor onto the materialistic compulsions of an overly eager TV audience. Neither as sharp or as spare as the movie with which it shares its essence- Being There-- but it is gentle and funny and pointed in its own way, and far better than the other dreck baring Murphy's name (Metro, Dr. Dolittle, The Distinguished Gentleman, et al.) that was being released at the time.


(Harold Ramis; 2006) My one direct steal from Bill R.'s list-- it's just too good a movie to let slide by. Cusack and Thornton orchestrate a robbery from Mob middle management on the night that Wichita, Kansas does a 15-degree freeze-over, making a clean getaway next to impossible. The hooks that femme fatale Connie Neilsen and besotted, cuckolded old pal Oliver Platt have planted in Cusack's cynical, but empathetic hide don't exactly ease the process along either. Bill contends that The Ice Harvest is the grim flipside of Ramis' Groundhog Day; together the two movies constitute as complete a directorial vision of the fickle, cackling comedy of fate and the (slim) possibility of redemption as any in the movies. And remember: As falls Wichita, so falls Wichita Falls.


(Josef von Sternberg; 1957) Delirious seems a woefully insufficient way to describe this genuinely odd, yet affecting action-romance. John Wayne is an Air Force colonel in charge of escorting a Soviet pilot (the entrancing but none-too-Siberian-looking Janet Leigh) during her defection. The two fall in love, and Leigh may be trying to coerce Wayne into changing affiliations himself, but if the will-he-or-won't-he suspense is less than compelling, there are always those long, dreamy flight sequences in which Wayne and Leigh (and their stunt pilots) censor-bait their way through some of the most thinly disguised coital reveries in movie history.


(Barbet Schroeder; 1978) The second of Schroeder's great documentaries of the '70s (the first being 1974's General Idi Amin Dada-- Self-Portrait) has at its center a far more benign protagonist, a primate being taught to communicate with humans by American Sign Language. Schroeder and cinematographer Nestor Almendros craft a wondrous and disturbing work that frames a fascinating, none-too-easily delineated debate about nature, animal rights and the primacy of humanity, all through the searching eyes (and prehensile manipulation) of the title character.


(Tay Garnett; 1937) Tyrone Power, Loretta Young and Don Ameche (never funnier, even in the T's below) are terrific in this swift screwball comedy about a crafty reporter who hounds a heiress and eventually gets the tables turned on him when she announces to the world, without it being factual, their impending engagement. As the reporter's world, including his sterling reputation, begins to crumble around him, true love ways start their sneaky march toward the end credits, and along the way the audience is treated to an exemplary comedy often lost in the shadows of mightier members of the species such as Nothing Sacred and His Girl Friday.


(Charles Barton, Charles Lamont(4), Edward Sedgwick, Lee Sholem; 1949-1955) Not one picture, but a seven-film series that virtually defines low-brow, audience-friendly un-art comedy and will never, ever gain a measure of critical respect. But damned if the gloriously gravel-voiced Marjorie Main and her main squeeze, Percy Kilbride (the only Pa), don't consistently appeal to this ex-farm boy's sense of nostalgia not only for growing up rural but also for the people I knew who adored as much as I do the arcane antics of this cornpone couple.


(Elaine May; 1972) Disavowed by its writer-director-star after it was re-edited at Paramount's insistence, there's still enough of May's singular comic cadences and wit on display here to rank this as one of the movies' most charming largely-unknown quantities. While Matthau's murderous gold-digger matches up with May's deceptively mousy heiress for some hilarious, often tonally odd moments down the path toward True Love, one comes to understand that even if May's version might not have been a masterpiece, the bowdlerized version (the only one we'll probably ever see) shines brightly enough to create a very special, morbidly emotional vibe all its own.


(Sam Peckinpah; 1983) The great director's last film is widely viewed as a for-hire hack job by a man desperate to prove he still had it. And anything but a cursory look at the movie ought to prove that he did. Ragged around the edges, this adaptation of the Robert Ludlum novel may feature now-dated technology, but that in no way diminishes its critique of a surveilled and self-conscious society that bears mention beside those of Brian De Palma. It's a messy, frustrating, compelling movie, both as social commentary and as an action piece.


(David Butler; 1936) Most notable historically as 14-year-old Judy Garland's film debut, this is a typical college comedy of the 1930s-- lots of musical numbers, clean-cut fraternities, star-crossed romance and, of course, the big game. But with a cast this fat and sassy-- everyone from Stuart Erwin to Patsy Kelly, Jack Haley, Betty Grable, Grady Sutton and Elisha Cook, Jr. are given room to shine-- the result is almost an embarassment of good-natured, giddily entertaining riches.


(Howard Franklin, Bill Murray; 1990) It covers the same basic ground as The Ice Harvest-- bank robbers can't quite swiftly flee the city where the crime took place. But this picture is more rooted in in exploration of the fascinations and fruistrations of its locale-- New York City-- than Ramis' film was in discovering Wichita as a true character. It is, in its fashion, no less bitter and barbed than The Ice Harvest, however, with an undercurent of off-kilter sadness that makes the movie more difficult to shake than your average crooks-dressed-as-clowns comedy.


(Antonia Bird; 1999) A skittish studio marketing department and dismissive reviewers put off by excessive gore and gristle doomed this cannibalistic vampire thriller, set in the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the mid-1800s, to bad box-office and an undeserved rep as a stinker. In reality, it's an exceptionally weird, funny, scary and grueling satire of rampant U.S. manifest destiny embodied by a westward-bound military force headed up by flesh-eaters in Union uniforms. Robert Carlyle stands out in a brilliant cast as a mysterious man who may not be telling all he knows about surviving a Donner Party-style disaster. And by the time this movie finishes, you may share Guy Pearce's brittle disposition as he creeps toward insanity while battling the hungry (and the hunger), as well as his repulsion from a juicy steak.


(James Landis; 1963) A bare-bones, white-knuckle scenario-- three folks on their way to a Dodger game have auto trouble that leaves them at the mercy of a murderous psychopath (Arch Hall, Jr.) and his weirdo girlfriend-- is packed to bursting with suspense and visual intelligence (courtesy of young cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond). If I'd seen this as a young movie fan, it probably would've driven me crazy with pleasure. As an adult, it merely shook me to my core.


(Allan Dwan; 1939) I'm not exactly the most likely audience for a musical version of Alexandre Dumas' classic novel starring Don Ameche, Binnie Barnes, Gloria Stuart and the Ritz Brothers. But damned if this happy-go-lucky take on The Three Musketeers isn't, in its own way, as entertaining as Richard Lester's revered 1973 version, as well as compelling evidence that the Ritz Brothers, in the right context, were indeed a terrific comedy team.


(Malcolm D. Lee; 2002) Anyone who doesn't get at least a baker's dozen solid laughs out of this cheerful blaxploitation send-up ought to have their Curtis Mayfield records taken away. You probably thought Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was a dud too, didn't you? Eddie Griffin, Chi McBride, Dave Chappelle, even Chris Kattan and Denise Richards, they all earn the yuks and a Super Big Gulp's worth of good cheer in this most improbably keen of comedies.


(Roy Ward Baker; 1970) Ingrid Pitt and Kate O'Mara head a delicious cast (that also includes the stalwart and always-welcome Peter Cushing) in Hammer's typically lurid vampire tale, for which tantalizing dollops of nudity and lesbian suggestion were stirred into the stage blood-heavy proceedings. The result was one of the studio's most memorable efforts, one that actually came close to living up to the trangressive promise of the advertising campaign. (Do heed the warning, however: NOT FOR THE MENTALLY IMMATURE!)


(Werner Herzog; 2005) I couldn't resist a double feature for the W's: Herzog's dreamy, zany terra-space nature documentary, in which cavernous and claustrophobic under-ice Antarctic seascapes are wedded to the director's conceit of a Man Who Fell to Earth-type character (Brad Dourif) achingly accounting his heartfelt longing for another world.

(Les Blank; 1980) In which Herzog makes good on a bet to marinate and eat his own shoe in front of a Berkeley audience. The occasion turns into a cracked, grandly Herzogian meditation on the passion of cinema, as well as the weirdest cooking show ever recorded.


(Chris Carter; 2008) The year's first great dread-of-winter chiller. (Here's the other one.) Curiously, I Want to Believe took heat for hewing closer to the self-enclosed intimacy of the series than did the more blockbuster-oriented (not to mention mythology-driven) Fight the Future. Take another look on DVD and see if the crisis of faith that anchors the film (Gillian Anderson has rarely been so moving as Scully) doesn't seem like one of the year's most compelling, not to mention frightening, dramas.


(Lewis Gilbert, 1967) The movie that ushered out the original wave of Sean Connery Bonds (the Scot would return for one more Broccoli pic, Diamonds are Forever, after George Lazenby's one-off in the terrific On Her Majesty's Secret Service). The one-sheet says it all-- wild, overscaled, silly and proud of it, yet muscular and kinetic. This is Connery as his loosest as 007, in a movie (scripted by Roald Dahl) that holds up extremely well in the Bond canon-- it's my all-time favorite from any era.


(Peter Medak, 1981) Made in the fading glow of the far less genial (not to mention considerably less funny) Love at First Bite, this is Exhibit A in the case for the zippy and endearing quality of George Hamilton's self-deprecating sense of humor. A laff riot, as they used to say, especially if you know your Don Diego de la Vegas from your Sgt. Demetrio Garcia Lopezes.


Uncle Gustav said...

"[A]fter Lazenby laid an egg, box-office wise" in On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a misunderstanding that's been dogging this good film for years. It was made for $7 million and grossed $87.5 million worldwide in first run.

I'm no math wiz, but does that mean if it were made today for $70 million, it would gross $875 million?

bill r. said...

Great list, Dennis. I love you choice of Quick Change. What's interesting is that when I got to that title on your list, I thought, "Oh, that's like choosing The Ice Harvest twice." But then I thought, "Wait. Why is that like choosing The Ice Harvest twice?" I'd never thought of those two movies together before, but the link seems so natural, now that you point it out. Plus, it almost felt, for a second, that Bill Murray was in both, or that Harold Ramis has directed both, or something. Strange.

Also, I almost chose Fast, Cheap and Out of Control! Boy, that really would have made you angry. It's an astonishing film. My own preference among Morris's films is Mr. Death, which I love beyond reason, but I couldn't choose it for my list, because, you know, Miller's Crossing, and everything.

bill r. said...

Also, I now desperately need to see The Sadist, as well as Wild Blue Yonder, the latter of which I wanted to see anyway.

Might as well throw Undercover Brother into the queue, as well, while I'm at it. I don't take comparisons to Anchorman lightly.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I'm not alone in appreciating Alien 3. I was struck by it's mood and tempo. Not at all like the first two in this continuing saga. It felt very film noirish to me.

WelcometoLA said...

Great list, Dennis. Wish I could share the love for "The Ice Harvest," but I never saw what everybody saw in that one.

Robert Fiore said...

I really like The Ice Harvest myself, but there's a big problem with John Cusack -- it's hard to see him as the cold-hearted, cold-blooded guy. You have the same kind of problem in Mikey and Nicky, which is one of my favorite movies, with Peter Falk playing the guy in the mob nobody likes. It's hard to see Falk as unlikable. The Coen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There would have been much better I thought if the main character had been played by Steve Martin instead of Thornton.

bill r. said...

I really like The Ice Harvest myself, but there's a big problem with John Cusack -- it's hard to see him as the cold-hearted, cold-blooded guy.

But he's not a cold-hearted, cold-blooded guy. I think one of the unspoken -- but still clear through Cusack's performance -- aspects of Charlie's character is that, when we meet him, he is finding himself in the throes of a deep regret about what kind of person he has become. One of the key lines is, towards the end, when Sidney says to Charlie, "Don't take this the wrong way, but you're one of the nicest guys I've ever met" (or words to that effect). Charlie's not a good guy, but he's good enough to know he's an asshole.

This is another way that I think The Ice Harvest makes a good companion to Groundhog Day, because in the latter film Phil comes to the same realization, although he has the opportunity to push further, and become a decent human being. Charlie sort of gives up by getting out of town, but he does make some headway.

But Robert, I find your Steve Martin as Ed Crane idea fascinating.

bill r. said...

Oh, and in Mikey and Nicky, I got the impression that the mob didn't like Falk not because he was unlikable, but because he was kind of a screw up.

Robert Fiore said...

I don't mean to get into a big argument about it, but I think that both the John Cusack character and the Peter Falk character in their respective movies are just realizing how others see them. In Ice Harvest everyone infers from the fact that he's being nice to people that he's about to leave town. This means he must have acquired a reputation of being a prick.

bill r. said...

I didn't think I was "arguing", at least not in the bad sense of that word. And besides, I agree, Charlie's a prick. I just don't think he's either cold-hearted or cold-blooded.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Hey, Flickhead, I certainly didn't have any numbers at my disposal, but I've always been under the impression that On Her Majesty's Secret Service-- and you're right, it is very good-- at least didn't do well in the U.S. And I admit I assumed (and you know what that does!) that it was more a matter of reaction to box-office-- which must have been at least down in comparison to the Connery films-- rather than anyone's personal taste that Lazenby was only a one-shot and never to return as Bond. But you're right-- $87.5 million against a $7 million investment is a pretty good return. Consider the egg-laying statement retracted!

Brian Doan said...

My understanding is that the box office for most Bonds after the then-astronomical grosses of THUNDERBALL went down-- Flickhead is right that OHMSS made a good amount, but it took longer to do so (I think it took over a year for it to earn its cost back) than earlier Bonds. That, and the mixed critical reaction to Lazenby were what caused UA head David Picker to go back after Bond (rather than going with some of the actors Broccoli and Saltzman were auditioning-- James Brolin (!) and John Gavin (!!) among them if I recall).

That said, I'm really glad Flickhead mentioned the overall BO success of the film-- I adore OHMSS, and think it's one of the top five Bond films ever (and certainly the most underrated).

Dennis, this is totally off-topic, but I wanted to ask-- is all ok in your neck of the city? I saw the news about the fires in CA today, and I'm woefully ignorant of that area's geography, so I don't know if they are near y'all. But I hope all is ok!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Off-topic (but who cares?)-- My top five Bond films , in descending order: You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me. (I'm also partial to Tomorrow Never Dies, but don't tell anyone!)

Off-topic II (but who cares?)-- Brian, my family and I are fairly miserable from a breathing standpoint, as the major fire areas-- Sylmar to the north, a huge swath of Orange County to the south-- have us pretty well boxed in. (Freeway travel has been restricted today and will likely continue so until things get under control.) We spent a goodly amount of time outdoors today, which was a mistake. My daughters and I are sitting in my bed right now (they're watching a Superman cartoon) and they're wheezing and hacking like there's no tomorrow. But as far as immediate danger from the flames, we're far from it. Nonetheless, these fire catastrophes seem to get worse and worse every year, and the whole thing is so agonizing, watching not just mountain brush go up this time, but many, many homes in some very heavily populated areas. The one very specious thing about the TV and radio coverage is that because this time some fairly moneyed neighborhoods, some up around the Santa Barbara area, are being devastated, the TV news heads are trying to convince us that its even more horrible than it would otherwise be. Yes, it's terrible that Oprah's house might be incinerated, but no more so than if John Q. Public's ends up the same way. Welcome to yet another wrinkle in the weirdness that is life in Southern California.

Thanks so much for asking, though, Brian. We continue to hope for diminished wind, cooler temperatures and extinguished flames, and we'll do so while staying inside tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Here's something you might find interesting:

It's a list of the 100 greatest murders in movie history.

elgringo said...

Leave it to you to take this meme to another level. There's a million lists out there but nobody's doing it like this. Great job.

I've got to agree with Bill R. Quick Change is a great choice. I wish I had thought of that one before I picked JCVD's The Quest.

Brian Doan said...

Dennis, glad to hear you are not near the flames, although I'm sorry that the air quality is so bad-- hope you and your loved ones will be alright.

Great top five Bond list! I would replace You Only Live Twice with Thunderball, and would shuffle the order (my favorite is Goldfinger, followed by Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, OHMSS, and From Russia With Love) but otherwise those are my top five, as well. And Tomorrow Never Dies is pretty good-- I like Daniel Craig a lot, but also appreciate what Brosnan did with the role.

Anonymous said...


Saw your top five of the Bond films. Can you share you assessment of the previous Daniel Craig outing, "Casino Royale" and where that might fall on your list in the future?

And about the fires, I'm fairly close to the Yorba Linda/Brea/Diamond Bar fire and the air quality here is just as nasty. I planned on driving out to Culver City today to shoot pictures and video of the areas where the old MGM lot #2 & #3 as well as the RKO 40 Acre backlots were located but I might hold off on the until the week after next.

Robert Fiore said...

Because no one asked for it, here's my Hollywood-heavy list:

The Awful Truth
The Big Sleep
City Lights
Dr. Strangelove
Empire of the Air
The Five Thousand Fingers of Dr. T
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Hail the Conquering Hero
It's a Gift
Jackie Brown
King Kong
The Lavender Hill Mob
Meet Me in St. Louis
The Navigator (Keaton)
One Froggy Evening
Le Plaisir
Quai de Orfevres
The Road Warrior
The Searchers
Touch of Evil
Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood)
Les Visiteurs du Soir
Witness for the Prosecution
X the Man With the X-Ray Eyes

I only use the foreign language cheat when the movie is better known by its foreign title. The hard letters for me are C (leaving out Children of Paradise, Chimes at Midnight and Chinatown), L (The Lady Vanishes, The Long Goodbye), S (Sullivan's Travels) and T (Top Hat). Astaire, Cocteau and Lubitsch getting skunked are the biggest regrets. Biggest alphabet force is Zardoz -- I don't even like it that much. Interesting how often the alphabetical force will make you pick your second favorite of a filmmaker's work.

Ed Howard said...

And here I thought I was the only one who ranks Buffalo Bill among Altman's finest films. That's a great choice, all too often overlooked even by Altman fans, especially compared to the much more famous films he made around the same time. Newman's performance is amazing, and never more so than in his late breakdown, rambling and hallucinating, imagining a conversation with Sitting Bull, his haunted eyes conveying his knowledge of his own essential corruption.

I was also this close to picking Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe for my own list. It's such a fun film, as Herzogian as anything Herzog has made himself.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ed: I'm always pleased to hear about someone else who loves Buffalo Bill... (I think Larry liked it a lot too, if memory serves). It's one that usually brings out accusations that we who love Altman cut him way too much slack-- and that's when I bring up Quintet! But it really is a much better movie than its reputation suggests, and all this talk about it, especially in the wake of Paul Newman's death, really has me wanting to see it again.

Robert: Thanks for your list. I did not ask for it, but I should have! And please, anyone else that would like to put one together and post it here, by all means do so! I love to read the lists!

Brian, DID: At this point I would give Casino Royale the coveted #6 spot-- it is a fine movie and worthy of mention in any "Best of Bond" conversation. But I felt like letting a little time pass before putting it in my top five. (How's that for a delusion of grandeur?) Also, has anyone seen Quantum of Solace yet? I will see it this weekend, but I was just curious what the general vibe around here might be. I went to see Slumdog Millionaire at the Arclight on Sunday, where Quantum was playing on five screens, including the Cinerama Dome, and it sure screwed up the usually happy and smooth parking garage experience there for me!

(BTW, Slumdog Millionaire is flat-out brilliant. I've never had much of a peg on Danny Boyle, but I certainly liked Shallow Grave and 28 Days Later-- Trainspotting I have some problems with, but in general I think it's good. This new film, however, is in a different league. And that's all I'll say right now besides "See it.")

Krauthammer said...

Well, if you like lists, I'm happy to oblige.

The Asassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Bigamist
The Crowd
Dead Man
Golddiggers of 1933
The Immortal Story
Jules et Jim
Killer of Sheep
The Last Picture Show
The Man from Laramie
A Night at the Opera
The Quackbuster
La Roue
Spirit of the Beehive
Written on the Wind
X-Men 2
Young Frankenstein

I've also seen Qunatum,and I mildly enjoyed it. Not nearly as good as Casino Royale, there are some real missteps and missed opportunities. But it moves briskly enough.

Ed Howard said...

Dennis: Hmmm, so I guess I probably shouldn't mention that I think Quintet is... um, not exactly good... but not nearly as bad as its reputation? It's interesting, certainly, and I appreciate the craziness of it all. Hopefully I'm not giving Altman too much slack by saying that I enjoy watching even his bizarre failures like that one.

Buffalo Bill is something else altogether, though; that's a masterpiece.

Robert Fiore said...

I wish I’d had Ed Howard's paper to copy from; I would have had Zelig for my Z too. Looking over my list it's interesting that comedy predominates until P after which various forms of mayhem take over. The guvnor's story about trouble in the Arclight parking lot reminds me of a visit I made to nearby Amoeba a week ago Saturday. You figure on a weekend afternoon you're safe from an in-store, but on that day they had an appearance by the large rubber thingies of Yo Gabba Gabba, a kids' show I'd been blissfully ignorant of (maybe the spawn of Cozzalio watch it). Half the aisles were monopolized by wee folk on the shoulders of their parents, something you don't have to deal with at movies where dozens die in a hail of profanity. The area around the Bluegrass section was a parking lot for strollers. I was really aggravated because this was the first chance I'd had to spend some money on CDs in months, which in the midst of all the infant revelry made me feel like the crabbiest old grump imaginable -- Mr. Wilson to the life.

Anonymous said...

Prediction: Wait a few more weeks on these lists, and you'll notice that EVERYONE will be choosing "The Wrestler" for their "W" entry. Great movie.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ed, as I typed the word Quintet I thought to myself, "Watch, I'm gonna be stepping on Ed's toes here!" Actually, as of the last time I saw it I still thought it was a mess, but I would agree with you, it was a fascinating mess, and better than I remembered. And no, I don't think it's giving him too much slack to say so. But I wonder, where is your own personal line in the sand when it comes to Altman? Is there a movie of his that you just have to say "no" to? I do love probably 90% of his movies to one degree or another, but for me it might not be Quintet these days so much as A Wedding, which for all it's wonderful bits and pieces (Nina Van Pallandt, Vittorio Gassman chewing out his brother in the fastest romance language ever spoken on film, the Famous Monsters-loving groomsman and his reverie about Ray Milland in Frogs, Lillian Gish at the window, and several others I'm sure I'm forgetting at the moment), remains for me a pale attempt to duplicate the stylistic success of Nashville without the soaring dividends. Or maybe Beyond Therapy, which I haven't seen in 20 years. And remember, I'm a man who enjoys the hell out of Ready to Wear, perhaps the director's most across-the-board reviled movie. I'd be curious what your own Altman breaking point might be, if you have one.

Robert: I was gonna use Zelig for my "Z" too! I was! I was!

Ed Howard said...

Nah, no stepping on toes here. I don't think I've seen as much Altman as you have, so I haven't really delved into as many of the critically reviled and forgotten ones yet. But Quintet is probably the messiest of his films that I have seen, the most obvious failure, even if it is a fascinating failure. I may actually enjoy A Perfect Couple even less, though, because despite some good moments a lot of it is just kind of turgid and boring. So much awful music, too, from a director who's usually got a better ear than that. I could see myself watching Quintet again one of these days, but I'm not so eager to revisit that one.

On the other hand, I really can't get behind the hate for A Wedding, which most days is probably my favorite Altman, even better than Nashville in my mind. It's just so much nasty fun.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ah, A Perfect Couple. Oh, how I wanted to like that one. But Ted Neeley and all that Keepin' 'Em Off The Streets (or whatever the hell that band was called) was just too much. You're right-- that music was pop rock as if heard and recorded by someone who hadn't a feel for music at all, which is certainly not true of Altman in general. It feels like it was made by a man who was spinning his wheels.

But I just bought Paramount's no-frills Popeye DVD in the hopes that my girls will cotton to it. (Divine Shelley!) And of the more obscure late titles, I HIGHLY recommend The Company, if you haven't seen it. God, I bet that movie looks good on an HDTV.

Anonymous said...

After taking a cursory look at you list, the one that stands out for me is Holy Man! I love that movie! I've never talked to anyone else that's seen it, let alone liked it. If time permits, I'm going to put together my own list.

As for the Bond list, I'll have to tackle that too, when I have time. I think at first blush, mine would come from the following: OHMSS, Casino Royale, Tomorrow Never Dies, Diamonds are Forever, Goldfinger and maybe The Man With the Golden Gun. One or two may be replaced upon further reflection, but that's my gut reaction. What fun!!

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