This meme arrives via Crystal. The idea is to choose your 5 Favorite Films and 5 Guilty Pleasures.
As I wrote on Crystal's blog, I'm not really comfortable with the idea of "Guilty Pleasures," as I think the concept promotes a false dichotomy between low art and high art. As one who loves musicals, screwball comedies, Astaire-Rogers films, etc., I don't think they're lesser films than favorites by Bergman, Godard, Kurosawa, etc. If I like a film, I like a film, and I don't feel guilty about it. Singin' in the Rain is a great film, period. I don't think it's better or worse than Rashomon, just different.
But having given my little cinema sermon, I'll play along. I offer 5 Favorites and 5 films that some people might feel guilty about enjoying.
Ran [Chaos] (1985) - I have a lot of favorite films, but this is the one I would probably want to take with me to a desert island. Akira Kurosawa does King Lear. It's an epic film that has everything: a great story by Shakespeare; adapted brilliantly to a medieval Samurai setting; stunning cinematography; lots of action, including some of the greatest battle sequences ever filmed; political intrigue; romance; family drama; a bit of comedy; and that elusive quality that all great art has, a kind of deep humanity that pierces both the heart and mind. It captures the horror and the beauty of life, the grandness of our existence, as well as the fact that we are but grains of sand. It deserves to be seen on a big screen, as Kurosawa's visuals are even more stunning than usual.
To Have and Have Not (1944) - My Bogart choice. Yeah, Casablanca is a better film, and if you ask me tomorrow, I'd probably include it instead. (The day after that, I might go with The Maltese Falcon, which seems more and more like a perfect film each time I see it.) So why pick a film that was a blatant attempt to repeat the success of Casablanca, that was based on one of Hemingway's most mediocre works, and that didn't have Ingrid Bergman? Easy: Lauren Bacall. She was 19 going on 35, and Bogart fell for her hard. And it's written all over the film. The two of them completely and utterly out-smolder the almost virginal relationship between Bogey and Bergman in Casablanca. Was there ever a more seductive, radiant and sexy woman than Bacall in To Have and Have Not? Bogey didn't think so. It's marvelous watching the two of them circle around each other in the film, just as they were doing in real life. Their banter ranks among some of the best in film history.
You know you don't have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow.In addition to the Bogart and Bacall sizzle, To Have and Have Not also offers a screenplay by William Faulkner (and Jules Furman), excellent direction by the great Howard Hawks, an exotic setting, and wonderful performances by Walter Brennan (winner of 3 Academy Awards in his career) and singer-songwriter Hoagy Charmichael. I always come away from this one very satisfied.
Holiday (1938) - While Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story are the more famous Cary Grant-Katherine Hepburn films, and I love them both, I've always had a soft spot for this one. Underneath the wonderful comedy, the stylish elegance, and the sheer exuberance of Grant and Hepburn, Holiday has a real poignancy and a touch of sadness about life. How do we want to live our lives? What's really important? What is real love? The screenplay by Philip Barry, who also wrote Philadelphia Story, is simply one of the best ever written, covering so much ground so smartly and gracefully.
Stephanie Zacharek has a great review of Holiday at Salon.com.
La dolce vita (1960) - Hard to choose between this and Fellini's 8½. Both have Marcello Mastroiani. I saw La dolce vita more recently, so I lean in its direction. From the opening shot of a helicopter carrying a statue of Christ across Rome to the final powerful sequence on the beach, Fellini spins a delightfully twisted moral tale. There are so many classic and brilliant scenes, such as Marcello and Anita Ekberg dancing in the Trevi Fountain. And Fellini's visual sensibility may be the greatest in cinema history. But Marcello gives the film its resonance, with a great portrayal of a journalist slowly losing his soul.
Swing Time (1936) - Astaire & Rogers. I can never decide between this and Top Hat as my favorite Fred & Ginger movie. Besides offering some of the greatest dancing ever seen on film, Swing Time also features great music by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, including "The Way You Look Tonight;" a witty screenplay; and Fred Astaire's underrated and excellent comic timing. Directed by George Stevens, who could deliver terrific comedies like Woman of the Year and Talk of the Town, as well as classic dramas such as Shane and Giant.
In Hannah and Her Sisters, Woody Allen tries to think of what makes this seemingly meaningless life worth living, and he finally settles on the Marx Brothers. Not a bad choice. That's how I feel about Fred Astaire. Swing Time helps keep me sane and deal with the existential black hole that always threatens to engulf me. That's why I would never call it a guilty pleasure!!! It's far too important.
Five Guilty Pleasures
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) - The film I've seen more than any other - I lost count at 37 times. And most of those were in the days before home video! When The Holy Grail came out in the 1970s, my friends and I had never seen anything like it. I mean, even the opening credits were hilarious. I saw the movie six times on its first release, and, after that, my friends and I waited eagerly for it to show up as a midnight movie every few months. After all these years, I still think it's brilliant. And having studied the Arturian Cycle a bit in college, I came to realize how incredibly intelligent these Oxford boys really were. If I didn't take Ran with me to a desert island, I might take this.
Et Dieu... créa la femme [And God. . . Created Woman] (1956) - Okay, this is as close as I get to a real "guilty" pleasure. I told myself that director Roger Vadim played a role in the development of the Nouvelle Vague, which is true. I told myself the film had a huge impact when it came out, helping to bring international films to an American audience, which is also true. I told myself it was important to watch the film in terms of overall cinema history, which isn't really a lie. So, there.
But, yes, I admit that Brigitte Bardot did have something to do with my watching this. Or everything to do with it.
By the way, it's actually a good film, and Bardot gives a great performance.
French Kiss (1995) - One of my favorite comedies. Kevin Kline is hilarious as a French thief. Meg Ryan does her Meg Ryan thing, though maybe better than ever. Jean Reno's a cop. Timothy Hutton is Meg's fiancee, who goes to Paris and falls in love with a French "god-dessssss." Meg is terrified of flying and hates the French, but she wants Hutton back, so she puts herself through hell. Don't know why it didn't do better when it came out. The writing is wonderful and very well-crafted, with a lot of attention to details. The soundtrack is great, with Charles Trenet's beautiful song "Verlaine," and many other French tunes, as well as one cut by Paolo Conte.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban (2004) - Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who also did the recent Children of Men, as well as Y Tu Mama Tambien. I've probably seen this five or six times now, and I appreciate Cuarón's craftsmanship more and more with each viewing. He doesn't like CGI, which I don't either, so his special effects feel different than those in other big Hollywood movies. Filmed up in Scotland, it has a wonderfully brooding atmosphere. The story is one of the best of the Potter series, and includes several surprises. The cast is a Who's Who of British actors, including Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Julie Christie, David Thewlis, Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane. And, of course, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry.
Quick Change (1990) - The funniest movie ever made about New York City. This underrated comedy classic was co-directed by Bill Murray, who also gives one of his best performances. He plays Grimm, a City Planner who's grown to hate the Big Apple and plans a bank heist so he can get out of the city and start over. The robbery goes fine - it's getting to JFK airport that turns out to be the real challenge. The great cast includes Geena Davis, Randy Quaid, Jason Robards, Tony Shaloub, Stanley Tucci and Phil Hartman. I'm not sure how this would play for those who haven't lived in New York, but if you're ever struggled to get to JFK on time to catch your flight (Liam!), you'll probably find this dead on.