Saturday, March 17, 2007

5 + 5 Movie Meme

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.

Five Favorites:

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

La dolce vita (1960) - Hard to choose between this and Fellini's . 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.


crystal said...

I saw To Have and Have Not on tv ... it was great! If I had to come back as a woman from that time, Lauren Bacall would be on my short list of options.

I think I could have liked French Kiss if only Meg Ryan hadn't been in it. Kevin kline is good ... A Fish Called Wanda, Silverado, Grand Canyon.

I see you do grasp the concept of "guilty" n the guilty pleasure catagory ... BB = Hercules :-)

Jeff said...

Great list, William. Will weigh in with some observations when I've go a little more time on my hands.


Liam said...

Just five is impossible, isn't it? Very surprised you didn't include Pirates of the Caribbean. I'll have to check out Quick Change.

cowboyangel said...


Who would the other women be?

Yeah, Meg Ryan. What are you going to do? I like her sometimes more than others. I thought she and Kevin worked well together.

A Fish Called Wanda is great - one of my favorite comedies. Kline is wonderful.

cowboyangel said...

Five is impossible, yes. The only one of the films I mentioned that I'm sure would be on the same kind of list tomorrow would be Ran. I forgot Kieslowski's Dekalog, for example. Although I'm not sure that's exactly a "favorite," as much as a work I think is truly great.

I really struggled between La dolce vita and Pirates of the Caribbean. Marcello vs Orlando Bloom. Fellini vs. Disney. It all gets so complicated. I had to go for a long walk in the woods, knocking back slugs of Johnny Walker in order to come to some kind of clarity. At one point, I was on my knees in the snow, weeping. "Please, O Great Lubitsch, give me some kind of guidance here!" Then I threw up all over myself. It was at that moment, so weak and humbled, that I had my revelatory experience: Federico appeared in a glorious ball of light, and he was wearing that cool hat of his, and my heart broke when he reminded me of Marcello freezing his ass off while filming the scene in the Trevi fountain, and a warm, fluid peace came over me. I knew then that as much as i love and respect Pirates that my role on this earth was to pick La dolce vita. So that some young boy somewhere out there in the world would come across the reference to the film and say, "Hmmm... that sounds interesting," and watch the movie.

crystal said...

Based just on how they looked back in the day, maybe Katherine Hepburn, Joan Fontaine, Ingrid Bergman ... if only :-)

Jeff said...

Kurosawa is an amazing director, and Ran was an amazing film. 'King Lear' in Japanese with incredible battle scenes, etc... I don't know if you caught it on Crystal's blog, but one of my favorite movie shots of all time was the samurai on horseback who rode across the field and Kurosawa had the shadow of a cloud following him. Unbelievable shot. One thing I don't get though, is the Japanese fetish for linking sex with sharp knives... I don't know what is supposed to be so erotic about it. It was taken to stomach-turning extremes in The Realm of the Senses.

Bogie and Becall sure did heat things up between the two of them. They were a sultry pair, in as far as much anyone could consider the old chain-smoking Bogie as sexy. The repartee in their movies was terrific, with this one being the best of them. In the Big Sleep, you can't figure out what anyone is talking about. You just want to scream out, SOMEBODY EXPLAIN TO ME WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON! The 19-year old Lauren Bacall... What a firecracker...

Can you believe I've never seen Holiday? It's embarrasing.

La Dolce Vita was great. I've known quite a few people who've gotten in trouble in Rome for taking a dip in the Trevi Fountain in imitation of that movie.

Swingtime is another great. Even a Gene Kelly fan like me has to give Astaire and Rgers their props for this one, and many others besides. :-)

The Holy Grail was revolutionary. Those guys were geniuses. I don't know how many times I've seen it, but it may be close to the number of times that you have. How many film students who first got their hands on a camera didn't try to recreate the Black Knight scene for their first movie?

And God. . . Created Woman? Never saw it, but Brigette is looking fine... I believe you.

French Kiss? Meh. I was a little disappointed in that one. The best film of that genre is still When Harry Met Sally, and my favorite Kline films are A Fish Called Wanda and I Love You to Death.

The last two I have not seen. Are you as big a fan of the Potter books as you are of the films?

Great list!

cowboyangel said...


Good choices. Have you seen Holiday? I'd be curious to know your thoughts.

cowboyangel said...


Thanks for the kind comments.

Kurosawa is an amazing director. He's got the most films of any director on my list of 100 Favorite Films. And I could probably add more if I didn't want to spread the wealth a bit. Glad you liked Ran. It doesn't always get the same accolades as some of his others, and I've never understood why.

I do remember you talking about the samurai on horseback scene, although, I have to confess, I don't remember the scene myself. Something to look for next time. Which should be soon - it's been a while since I've seen it.

Haven't seen The Realm of the Senses.


:-) Yes, The Big Sleep has that reputation. I've read the novel, so it's not quite as confusing to me. (It's an excellent novel, btw.) It's still a fun film, I think. Bogey and Bacall are great together, especially the first couple of times they talk. And I really like the scene where Bogey ducks into the bookstore for a while. But, no, it's not the most lucid screenplay ever written.

Have you seen Key Largo? We watched that again not too long ago, and I was really impressed. A great film. And a much better screenplay.

Actually, you shouldn't feel bad about not seeing Holiday. A lot of people haven't. I notice on IMDB that there are over 13,000 votes for Bringing Up Baby, over 15,000 for Philadelphia Story, but only 2,000 for Holiday. I hadn't seen it until a few years ago, and then it became one of our favorites, and I've seen it several times since. You should check it out, especially if you like Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.

Even a Gene Kelly fan like me has to give Astaire and Rgers their props for this one, and many others besides. :-)

That means a lot, coming from you! By the way, what IS your favorite Gene Kelly movie? (If it's Singin' in the Rain, what about your second favorite?)

It's scary, but at one point I knew most of the Holy Grail by heart - I had the LP, which helped. My best friends and I worked together in a grocery store, and we used to do the skits as we straightened out the shelves before closing each night. I wonder sometimes how much of my skewed world view comes from Monty Python and the Marx Brothers. Lessons I never learned in school. Some of them very important! I still think the conversation between Arthur and the two peasants is one of the greatest riffs on politics ever.

King Arthur: I am your king.
Woman: Well I didn't vote for you.
King Arthur: You don't vote for kings.
Woman: Well how'd you become king then?
[Angelic music plays... ]
King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your king.
Dennis: Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

And, of course, it caused me to look up Anarcho-Syndacalist!

Yeah, no one seems to groove on French Kiss like La Reina and I do. Just one of those things, I guess.

We do like the Potter books very much. It's funny, I tried reading the first one 2 or 3 times without any luck. But something about the third film made me try again. And, suddenly, it clicked. Then, La Reina and I spent the next several months fighting over the books. We went through the first five just before the sixth one came out. My favorite book is Goblet of fire (#4). But it's my least favorite movie. It was a mistake, I think, to try and put it all in one film. My least favorite book was the fifth, Order of the Phoenix, and I'm curious to see how the movie turns out. I think the book needed some editing, so a slimmed-down film version might actually help. Now, we await the final installment this summer. In fact, I need to pre-order it. Maybe I'll go do that now.

Jeff said...

Then did he raise on high the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, saying, "Bless this, O Lord, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy." And the people did rejoice and did feast upon the lambs and toads and tree-sloths and fruit-bats and orangutans and breakfast cereals ... Now did the Lord say, "First thou pullest the Holy Pin. Then thou must count to three. Three shall be the number of the counting and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither shalt thou count two, excepting that thou then proceedeth to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the number of the counting, be reached, then lobbest thou the Holy Hand Grenade in the direction of thine foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it."

By the way, what IS your favorite Gene Kelly movie?

Not to gve you a smart-alec answer, but I really like his straight acting role in Inherit ther Wind, with Spencer Tracy. As far as his other dance movies go, I guess I'd have to say An American In Paris and On the Town. I don't think Sinatra did that bad a job in that last one.

cowboyangel said...


American in Paris and On the Town are great. I still haven't seen Inherit the Wind! Terrible.

Have you ever seen Gene Kelly in the 1967 French musical, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort [Young Girls of Rochefort]? If not, you really should check it out. It's a wonderfully strange musical, with Gene singing and speaking in French! Evidently, he was fairly fluent, though some of his parts are dubbed. It was his last film musical and stars Catherine Deneuve and her sister Françoise Dorléac, who was such a delight on screen but tragically died in a car accident right after filming. It also has George Chikiris from West Side Story and the great French actor, Michele Piccoli. If you can get past some of the worst/tackiest costumes ever at the beginning of the film, you'll encounter a truly inspired and bizarre set of songs about Democracy, Art vs War, poetry, a serial axe murderer, etc. And, of course, love. The music, by Michel Legrand, is great - a cool, jazz groove part of the time. And Jacques Demy, who also did the more famous Umbrellas of Cherbourg, does an excellent job with his use of color and photography. The first time I saw it I was like, "What in the world is this?" But I instantly fell in love with it and have seen it several times since. Gene is great, and in great shape for 55.

Jeff said...

Gene Kelly, still dancing in 1968? Cool. Hey, if it has Catherine Deneuve in it, it would be worth seeing it for that reason alone. :-) George Chakiris... Great dancer. I'm trying to remember what big studio prodution number I saw him in before West Side Story, but I'm not coming up with it.

Biby Cletus said...

Nice post, its a Super cool blog that you have here, keep up the good work, will be back.

Warm Regards

Ran Movie Review

cowboyangel said...

biby cletus,

Thank you for visiting and for your kind words. I like the series of reviews on Kurosawa on Kerala Articles. And the other posts. What an interesting mix.

I see from your profile that youre from Alappuzha, in the south of India. It looks like it's on the coast? Were you greatly affected by the tsunami?

According to Wikipedia, Alappuzha is "A town with picturesque canals, backwaters, beaches, and lagoons, it was described as the List of places known as Venice of the East by Lord Curzon." Wow, Venice in India. I didn't know! Thanks for introducing me to something new.

I hope you visit again. And I'll check on Kerala Articles again.