MICHAEL DEQUINA’S BOLLYWOOD STARTER-KIT (2/2)

4) DIL CHAHTA HAI (The Heart Desires)
2001, directed by Farhan Akhtar, starring Aamir Khan, Akshaye Khanna, Saif Ali Khan, Preity Zinta

Along with “Lagaan” this was considered the other revolutionary film of 2001, and also coincidentally (or not?) stars Aamir Khan. This was the debut film of writer-director Farhan Akhtar, a twenty something at the time (actually, I think he still is), and he was crowned the big new hope as the film became a sensation. Other familiar faces here are Preity and Saif. This film has a clear inspiration in “Swingers”, and while remakes/ripoffs of Hollywood films are common in B’wood, this one stands out in that it isn’t a complete remake/ripoff more than taking some inspiration and doing its own thing with it. Unlike “Swingers”, this follows three guys; Aamir has the Vince/Trent role, while Favs/Mike is split into his more romantic side (Akshaye) and the goofy/pathetic side (Saif). But, as I said, it’s clearly its own thing aside from some character parallels. Such a portrait of young, urban young men in India was quite revolutionary for B’wood, and this film became a sensation, so much that Aamir’s look in the film became quite the in thing, not unlike, say, Jennifer Aniston’s original Rachel haircut.

I guess I can see the “Swingers” thing, with the macho loudmouth and his sensitive/pathetic friend(s) going to clubs and stuff, but as Mike mentions, the resemblances don’t go much further than that. In any case, this is a fun male bonding comedy, with all three actors proving to be charismatic both on their own and when interacting together. The movie also dips into melodrama, notably in the subplot about a woman who hasn’t seen her daughter in 5 years because her ex-husband thinks she’s alcoholic. I’m still enamoured of Indian girls in general, Preity Zinta in particular, and the songs are always welcomed, from the number in the club (a blend of electro, Missy Elliot music videos and the usual B’wood sauce) to Aamir and Preity’s lovely duet through Sydney.

6) MAIN HOON NA (I’m Here Now)
2004, directed by Farah Khan, starring Shahrukh Khan, Suniel Shetty, Sushmita Sen, Amrita Rao, Zayed Khan

You’re an action guy, so I figure I should throw in some B’wood action, heh. I would’ve included the rather fun and *very* faithful 2002 Reservoir Dogs remake Kaante in this slot, but lingering North American home video distribution rights issues have held up its formal DVD release here. Hindi action sequences are generally pretty shitty and laughable, but the set pieces here are very well-done. The director here is Farah Khan, and this is her first directing venture after a long, successful career as a choreographer (she choreographed most of the films here, including this one, and she choreographed that weak Reese Witherspoon dance in Vanity Fair). While largely an action film, this is another classic masala as it also has a lot of broad comedy, melodrama, and music, but one thing that sets this film apart is that all the excesses are done with a knowing tongue-in-cheek; it’s very self-aware excess. Yes, Shahrukh again, but it’s a bit surprising to see him fit so well as guns-blazing action dude. Suniel Shetty, who plays the villain here, is actually one of B’wood’s top action heroes. Leading lady Sushmita Sen was Miss Universe 1994, and the younger leading lady Amrita Rao is a relative newcomer. The one huge blight on this film for me is Zayed Khan, who’s Hrithik Roshan’s real-life brother-in-law. That’s about the only relation as he has none of Hrithik’s ability as an actor and most certainly as a dancer (his intro dance number here is pretty pathetic)–he and Kareena Kapoor need to co-star together frequently, so I can avoid them both easily, heh…

I had been putting off watching this last of Mike’s Starter-Kit for a while when I found out that it would play at Montréal’s Festival du Nouveau Cinéma. I jumped at the opportunity to have my first big screen, packed house Bollywood experience and man, was it worth it! No doubt about it, I’m a fan, these movies are just too fun. A picture like “”Main Hoon Na”” plays to practically all of my cinematic fetishes: spectacular musical numbers, over the top action scenes à la John Woo (white doves included), gorgeous actresses, tearjerking drama, hilarious college comedy… Shahrukh is a film god, Sushmita and Amrita are endlessly adorable and I found Zayed pretty funny – he’s like a Hindi Brice de Nice!

*****
You can read Michael Dequina at The Movie Report/Mr. Brown’s Movie Site

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You could win one of ten double passes for the Montreal premiere of THE BENCHWARMERS, Wednesday April 5, 7pm, at Cinéma Paramount. The randomly picked winners will be announced on Tuesday April 4.

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Good luck to all!

MICHAEL DEQUINA’S BOLLYWOOD STARTER-KIT (1/2)

I’ve long been intrigued by Bollywood films, but I had never actually sat down to watch one. Fellow movie critic Michael Dequina generously offered to get me started by sending me a 6-pack of Bollywood, accompanied by background on each title, reprinted below in italics, followed by my own impressions. This little homemade festival should warm up my winter, all right!

1) LAGAAN: ONCE UPON A TIME IN INDIA
2001, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, starring Aamir Khan, Paul Blackthorne, Rachel Shelley, Gracy Singh.

This was nominated for the FLF Oscar, and it’s one of the two films of 2001 that were considered major leaps for B’wood production polish and one of the three big blockbusters from that year (needless to say, that was a benchmark year). Aamir (I’ll go by B’wood media tradition and call actors by their first name, heh), who also produced, was called by the U.S. media at the time of the nod as “the Indian Tom Cruise,” but his intensity, range, fairly infrequent screen appearances, and (infamous) method techniques make me think he’s more the Indian Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s a B’wood rarity in that he commits to one role at a time when most stars do two or three films simultaneously (hence why most major stars have about three major releases a year), and apparently this film’s polish and Hollywood-level production were all his influence as he’s tried to bring reform and professionalism to the normally slapdash B’wood. Anyway, it’s easy to see why this got the FLF nod as it’s very Western, not to mention of a very American genre of the underdog sports film. Some great music here by A.R. Rahman, perhaps B’wood’s most celebrated composer; a number of his B’wood tunes (though none from this particular film) were adapted and strung together for the stage show Bombay Dreams, which closed on Broadway after a sadly less-than-successful run (which makes me glad that I caught it when I was in NYC). So this is a good film to start with as it’s very Western in feel and formula though the B’wood dances and music are all here, and there are some standouts.

In 1893, Indian farmers starve while struggling to pay taxes to the EVIL British colonialist army… Unless they can beat them in a game of cricket! If you’ve ever wondered what a David Lean epic would be like with musical numbers and sports movie clichés, “Lagaan” is your answer! This is a gorgeous production, full of color, melodrama, music, humor, romance… A little long, maybe, but I understand that’s the case with all Bollywood films. Good times.

2) DEVDAS
2002, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, starring Shahrukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Madhuri Dixit

This was India’s Oscar entry in 2002, and it sadly didn’t make the cut. My guess is that it’s too strong a dose of B’wood. This is very far removed from “Lagaan” in that this is grand, operatic, romantic tragedy, from the sumptuous set and costume design to the outsize emotion and emoting. I think Academy probably saw it as a bit too much, but on that same token I think that’s what makes it more quintessentially B’wood. While I saw “Lagaan” before I saw this, this was the first B’wood I saw on the big screen at the then-recently opened local Bollyplex, as I call it, and this is what really sold me and made me a fan. Also helps that this stars three of the biggest B’wood stars around here: Shahrukh (or SRK, as he’s known) is easily the biggest draw out there right now (and featured in other films in this pack). Madhuri Dixit was B’wood queen in the ’90s, and actually this is her last film before she settled into married, quasi-retirement in Denver, where she lives now; she says she’ll come back, but she’s currently pregnant with her second child, so that’ll have to wait. And then of course there’s the reigning queen herself, the goddess among us that is Aishwarya Rai. SRK is good if a little hammy here, but the two women are the ones who really carry this film, and both are terrific in their performances and there renowned dancing skills–and that says something about Madhuri that she’s able to come off so strong to me when Ash is there, heh. This is the director’s third film, and he’s kind of become synonymous with big, lavish romances (though his next one, due out in a month or so, is a change-of-pace, song-free drama). This film is an adaptation of a very well-known novel that in India is as ingrained in the consciousness as is, say, Romeo and Juliet in the West, and as such has been filmed numerous times. Needless to say this is the most extravagant version yet, and it at the time was the most expensive Indian film ever made; to call it the Bollywood “Titanic” is a bit apt as it then went on to become a global box office success, and this film is what got all the Hollywood interest in Ash rolling from its premiere at the Cannes fest in 2002, where it made a big impression.

When Devdas comes back to India after spending 10 years abroad, his childhood friend Paro is overjoyed, as she’s never stopped longing for him. But their passion runs against the castes system, alcohol, courtesans, arranged marriages and various questions of “honour”. This is an hopelessly romantic story like I like it, with melodrama and cartoonish villains coming between the lovers. There’s also a touch of slapstick and, of course, song and dance numbers that will make your heart throb. This makes American movies look so bland! Why can’t we embrace bright lights and colors like this? It’s like Bollywood has taken over the mantle of the old Technicolor MGM musicals, but went for an even more over the top and flamboyant approach. Again, the film’s a tad too long for its own good, but it’s still a lot of fun and Aishwarya Rai is one of the most stunning beauties to ever grace the screen.

5) KABHI KHUSHI KABHIE GHAM… (Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sorrow…)
2001, directed by Karan Johar, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Kajol, Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukerji

NOTE: You’ll notice that the order is screwed up from here – my bad. I really wanted to go through the films as Mike planned, but somehow I grabbed the wrong tape and thus watched this instead of the “real” third film in the lot.

OK, with this film we start to dip a little more into the cheesiness that less informed people equate with B’wood, for there’s no more perfect embodiment of all the cheesiness and amateurishness that runs through B’wood than the hacktress known as Kareena Kapoor. She’s a big, in-demand B ‘wood star for some reason even though her movies routinely flop (excluding this one, the third of those three 2001 global blockbusters) and, frankly, she isn’t very attractive and can neither act *nor* dance. But it speaks to how good this film is in general that I’m able to overlook her general obnoxiousness here (and, indeed, this is one of her more obnoxious performances). This is a great example of the distinctly Indian film genre known as “family values,” in which bonds of family are affirmed and all that good stuff; the writer-director here is another top young filmmaker, Karan Johar (who also wrote and produced Kal Ho Naa Ho), who’s become synonymous with the genre. This is also a good intro to a number of the biggest names in B’wood; unfortunately Kareena happens to be one of them, heh. Amitabh is a living legend, known as Big B; he won some BBC poll as “star of the millennium.” His wife Jaya (seen in Kal Ho Naa Ho as Preity Zinta’s mother), playing his on-screen wife here, is also a star and award-winning actress in her own right. By now you’ll know Shahrukh, and his leading lady here is Kajol, with whom he makes one of the most popular screen couples in B’wood history; this is their third film together. I guess the contemporary Hollywood equivalent would be, say, Hanks and Ryan, but with a totally unique erotic charge. Their big romantic duet here (“Suraj Hua Maddham”) is considered a classic in both song and picturization, and is also rather controversial due to its intense sensuality–but it must be noted that all the heat is solely due to their palpable chemistry and no real overt raunchiness. Kajol is known for playing kooky/goofy/zany yet charming characters (hence the Ryan comparison), and those qualities are in full blast here. This is actually her last film to date, as she then had a child; she has yet to return to the screen despite her overwhelming popularity. Then we have Hrithik, dubbed the Brad Pitt of Bollywood, and I think that’s a spot-on analogy. He’s a bit of a pretty boy, but his acting ability is generally underrated, and this is one of his best performances; also like Brad, his performances are inconsistent and generally needs strong direction. One thing all of Hrithik’s own, though, is his fantastic dancing ability; he’s easily the best male dancer in B’wood, and it’s a shame he and Ash have yet to do a film together. Rani, the third of the top tier B’wood actresses, has a smallish but important role here. This film also happens to feature what is my all-time favorite B’wood song, “You Are My Soniya,” which I fully admit to being a shameless bit of bubblegummy dance-pop fluff, but dammit if the bubble gum is irresistibly delicious–so much so that I can forgive the fact that Kareena handles the female dancing/lipsynching duties on it, heh.

Between this and “Devdas”, I do indeed know and love Shahrukh Khan, a truly cool leading man. The story deals with a business empire and a difficult relationship between Shahrukh and his father, but unsurprisingly the movie’s at its most involving when he’s flirting with Kajol. I’m starting to feel that Indian girls are the most loveable in the world, they’re so pretty and lively! At times, I didn’t even bother reading the subtitles, Kajol’s facial expressions and body language alone kept me entertained. As do the bright-colored clothes and the dancing, of course. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, these movies make ours look so effin’ bland! So they’re too long and all over the place… Fine by me, joy doesn’t need to be focused and disciplined. Something like the “Shava Shava” party scene is one of the best moments of pure cinema I can imagine, in or out of context. I was depressed being home alone on a Friday Night, but the movie totally cheered me up (the Maudite helped too, I guess, but still). About Kareena Kapoor, I don’t know why Dequina’s so hard on her. She comes out of nowhere post-intermission (introduced in a ridiculously effective montage – Poo, Halleluhah!), and the movie becomes about her, like we’re watching Hindi “Mean Girls” in London all of the sudden. Ok! More flirtation (with the great Hrithik Roshan), more musical numbers… It’s all good.

3) KAL HO NAA HO (Tomorrow May Never Come)
2003, directed by Nikhil Advani, starring Shahrukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Saif Ali Khan, Jaya Bachchan

This was easily one of my fave films, period, of 2003. I showed these first three films to jchensor and LVJeff as a big intro tripleheader, and this one is the one they liked best. Actually, I find out of any film, this is the one that works best as a cold turkey B’wood intro, and if we were going to just go with one film, this would’ve been it. However, since you’ve bravely chosen to get the full intro, it’s best to watch it third. Anyway, one of the big things about this film’s appeal to Western viewers (and it was B’wood’s biggest North American hit of 2003, with U.S./Canada grosses nearing around $3 mil) is that it was shot almost entirely in New York, and the familiar locations I find really go a long way. Of course, it helps that this is simply a terrific, entertaining film. If “Lagaan” was very Western in its genre placement and “Devdas” more generally Asian in its romantic tragic extremes, then KHNH is perhaps the most specifically Indian in that it’s a great example of the classic Bollywood masala film–that is, the distinctively Indian mixing of disparate genres, and here it’s pretty darn seamless: funny, sad, bittersweet, silly, highly dramatic and emotional, and it all feels of a piece, not to mention hits every note about perfectly. The comedy gets a little silly and broad as B’wood is prone to do, but it’s genuinely funny, but then it’s also intensely involving due to the three well-drawn lead characters, relationships, and performances. Shahrukh is again the star, and his two main co-stars are two other big names, Preity and Saif. Preity is considered one of the three top rung B’wood actresses–it’s her, Ash, Rani Mukerji (seen elsewhere in this “festival”) and then everyone else, and this award-winning performance helped cement that. She also regularly writes a column for BBC’s website, and before getting into acting in 1998 (with “Dil Se”, which I would’ve included in this package but didn’t have space) she did some work as a model and newscaster. Saif was one of those reliable supporting guys in B’wood (another of these turns to come later), but this particular supporting turn won him a bunch of awards and acclaim and helped bump him up to his own lead projects, which he has since been successful at. This film was the big Indian film award winner in 2003 and went on to win great acclaim on the festival circuit, and of course great commercial success. I do think that if the North American distributor were a bit more ambitious with the advertising, or maybe even partnered with a mainstream distributor, this could’ve been the big crossover film as my non-B’wood fan friends who’ve seen it also adore it. For whatever it’s worth, after I threw the flick a bunch of ‘Rati award nominations last year, Gabe checked it out for himself and loved it. The music here is by the trio of composers known as Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, whose more modern, Western pop-inflected sound first broke through with… (see #4)

Whoa, this is something else! Not only is the movie set in New York, it’s also got a more hip and modern feel. The opening 20 minutes dynamically introduce all the characters with witty narration and snappy camerawork, then we’re totally engrossed in their lives. In true Bollywood fashion, the upbeat and jokey tone cohabits with high melodrama: Naina is lonely, her father committed suicide, her mother’s restaurant is on the verge of bankruptcy, her little brother is handicapped and her little sister is sad because their grandmother hates her. Sounds depressing, but it’s surprisingly not, particularly once wisecracking Aman enters the picture. I love the banter between Shahrukh Khan and Preity Zinta, the love triangle that develops with Saif Ali Khan is rather unpredictable and moving and, of course, the musical numbers are a gas. Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman in Hindi, disco, salsa, a few slow songs… Good times.

PART TWO HERE!!!

ALIAS

Season One

Season Two

Season Three

Here we go again!

4.1 – Authorized Personnel Only, Part 1
[ Talk about opening with a cheesecake bang! A blonde Jennifer Garner in a white baby-doll seducing some bad guy, then kicking a little ass before falling to a certain death… Ok, it’s just like the classic Superbowl episode on a train instead of a plane, and they even do the “72 hours earlier” thing again, but it’s still damn hot. I also love how they reboot the show again, recreating the dynamics of Season One with Sydney, Jack, Dixon, Vaughn and even Sloane back working together. Where the hell’s Marshall, though? ]

4.2 – Authorized Personnel Only, Part 2
[ Oh, there he is. “We’re back!” And we’re stealing a samurai sword to lure out a “modern samurai” who works for the new super-villain… Or does he? Things are never simple in “Alias”, whatever answers you’re given raise new questions, in this case involving a character from Season Two. Good stuff. ]

4.3 – The Awful Truth
[ Mía Maestro, who plays Nadia, Syd’s half-sister, is lovely, as Garner continues to be, of course. Then you’ve got the rest of the regular cast who remain enjoyable but story-wise, there’s nothing new here. Pretend to be someone else, hack into something, etc. It’s still suspenseful and there are hints of more exciting things to come, especially around the more cold than ever Jack Bristow. ]

4.4 – Ice
[ It Only Hurts When I Think. Man! Logic often takes the backseat, but when you let yourself enjoy Jennifer Garner’s beauty, the exotic locales and suspense, it’s all good. The “ice” stuff is kinda ridiculous, but it’s also pretty cool, no pun intended. Kelly MacDonald and her scrumptious accent guest star, but this is mostly one of the most dramatic and emotional episodes for Vaughn in a long time; it even makes you reconsider Michael Vartan’s limited acting abilities. ]

4.5 – Welcome to Liberty Village
[ Sydney and Michael infiltrate a terrorist cell of Russians training to pose as Americans. A military compound made to look like suburbia, this is not unlike “The Prisoner”, which makes for a nice change of pace for the show. No world-hopping, glamorous settings and complicated break-ins here, Syd and Vaughn just have to be convincing as a couple of newlyweds… which is not that simple considering their history together. I wish they’d made this a two-parter, though, as is it felt like they rushed into a finish just when it was getting good. ]

4.6 – Nocturne
[ Huh. Did Syd just get bit by a… vampire? Why don’t they have her jump a shark while they’re at it? The hallucinations are effectively creepy but seriously, what the hell? ]

4.7 – Détente
[ Despite last week’s jump-the-shark episode, it seems the show is still capable to move and intrigue. Syd finally acknowledges how screwed up it is that she has to work with the man who took her fiancé and best friends away, she gets a nice little Sloane-hating moment with Dixon then the whole hour is basically a mental confrontation between Sydney and Sloane. I also dig Nadia and Syd posing as rich party girls, Paris Hilton-style, and there are some neat twists and action scenes – everything on the boat, particularly. Don’t count out “Alias” just yet, it’s still got juice. ]

4.8 – Echoes
[ “Anna Espinosa.” “She’s supposed to be dead.” “So are a lot of people.” Ha! I love this comic-book/spy-show nonsense where people die and come back to life at random. I also love that they’re finally bringing back the Rambaldi visions, making the Bristow sisters’ relationship even more complicated. Then there’s a lot of suspense, Jennifer Garner posing as a hooker, some pretty hardcore violence and the return of Sark, still as devious as ever. ]

4.9 – A Man of His Word
[ Oh, Sark! He’ll cooperate with APO, but only if he can go to his late girlfriend Laura Reed’s grave and have her corpse exhumed – by Vaughn. What a sick bastard move… Anna Espinosa’s also still being a bastard, trying to kill a defenseless Nadia, then fleeing by tying a fire hose around her and jumping through a window, “Die Hard”-style. Then you’ve got Sydney dressing up as Lauren to get to one of her former contacts, which means Vaughn has to see his current girlfriend looking like the woman he married then killed… Disturbing, but it makes for great drama and tension. Then there’s Jack’s latest questionable move and the impact it has on Sloane and their mysterious pact, the meeting of two of the series’ longtime villains and a growing sense that J.J. Abrams and company are building up to something big. This is by far the season’s best episode so far. ]

4.10 – The Index
[ “He’s using us. Again. And that’s not something I’m willing to let him do.” The more Dixon the better, and it’s interesting how his suspicions about Sloane put Sydney back in the position of doing double agent work, seemingly going with the mission but corrupting the results, etc. Making things more ambiguous is that this time, Syd would rather not Sloane actually be guilty, for Nadia’s sake. Add a few good twists and a few good stunts and you got a pretty good episode. ]

4.11 – The Road Home
[ Pretend, swipe, interrogate… Eh, nothing special, but then you got an oddly touching little thing going on with a busboy who didn’t ask for trouble, he just happened to be working in the bad guy’s nightclub (“What is it with these guys and nightclubs?”) and fell for Syd’s dimples. It makes you realize how rarely shows or movies actually take the time to stop and consider the fate of the random henchman. I’m not sure what to think about the mystery Vaughn is investigating yet and the thing with the killer toy helicopter was pretty dumb, but I loved the subplot in Angola offering further proof that Jack is more of a coldblooded mofo than any of the actual bad guys! “You… betrayed… ME!” ]

4.12 – The Orphan
[ Nadia’s origin story, from an orphanage to teenage delinquency in the streets of Argentina to being recruited by a spy agency, is brought back into the present when the team has to steal some hi-tech gizmo from an old acquaintance of her. This is a little different from what we’re used to, and it’s nice to get to know more about Nadia. ]

4.13 – Tuesday
[ Yeesh, they’re not playing around this week. Just in the pre-titles sequence, you got salsa dancing, a car crash, two people getting shot in the head and a biochemical attack! Sydney being buried alive is a “Kill Bill Vol. 2” rip-off, but how it’s Marshall who has to go to Cuba and rescue her is totally unexpected and cool. Emotional, suspenseful, gruesome and often hilarious (hey, this is Marshall we’re talking about), this one of the best “Alias” episodes in a long time. ]

4.14 – Nightingale
[ “We always thought my mother killed your father, but…”
Gawd, I love this shit. Syd and Vaughn talking about these insane things like it’s everyday stuff… And I love how it finally seems like the season’s building up to something big, involving not only our favorite spy couple’s parents but also Nadia and the secret alliance between Sloane and Jack. Plus, I’m sure Rambaldi’s got something to do with this whole mystery, can’t wait to see where this is going. In the realm of more immediate pleasures, this ‘sode cleverly references Lewis Carroll, has Jack interrogating some poor bastard and puts Jennifer Garner in high heels and fishnets. Rowrrr! ]

4.15 – Pandora
[ Vaughn’s gone rogue, he’s being chased and shot at by his former CIA partners, he shoots back and… kills Dixon?!? Of course, this is just a tease quickly followed by one of those “48 hours earlier” tags. But that’s ok, because there’s plenty of other intriguing stuff to go through before we go back to that cliffhanger: the return of Isabella Rossellini (“Last time I saw you, Aunt Katia, you tried to put a bullet in my head.”), Jack’s mutation, even some Rambaldi business. ]

4.16 – Another Mister Sloane
[ Whoa, we’re really back into the Rambaldi stuff, big time. They even wheel back in the hovering red ball thingie from Season One! I don’t know what’s the deal with this “Arvin Clone”, but I am loving Joel Grey’s pointed impression of Ron Rifkin. Good show. ]

4.17 – A Clean Conscience
[ This is a bit too all over the place. Multiple storylines are okay, but not when none manage to really connect. A mysterious lady from Nadia’s past, an undercover agent who might have gone rogue, Jack breaking apart – there’s something in each of these, but the cross-cutting undermines any eventual payoff(s). Plus when are we gonna return to Arvin Clone and Rambaldi? There’s some good Dixon slow-burn moments, but this remains a mixed bag. ]

4.18 – Mirage
[ Huh? I wasn’t sure where they were going with Michael McKean’s guest starring role, but I certainly didn’t expect this! The Sophia thing is pretty old-hat, though – this is the third season in a row in which a friend/wife/etc. turns out to be a spy for the bad guys. The second half of the episode is kinda contrived and creepy, but it allows for a moving scene in which Sydney’s childhood and the way her father felt about it come into play. ]

4.19 – In Dreams…
[ The pre-titles opening sequence is awesome-o, with Arvin Clone visiting shotgun-carrying monks who’ve found a way to strip bees of the “need for aggression” and Rambaldi’s red ball of doom finally being put to use. We also learn more about the pact between Jack Bristow and Sloane but of course, in good old “Alias” fashion, all answers do is raise more questions. The whole thing with Jacqueline is heartbreaking, it humanizes Sloane in a way he’s rarely been – the virtual return of Amy Irving definitely contributes to this, and Ron Rifkin himself is amazing. This is the season’s best episode so far. It further positions the series as not only the complicated saga of the Bristow/Derevko family but the tragic tale of one Arvin Sloane, a monster in search of redemption. And it’s Jennifer Garner’s directorial debut! ]

4.20 – The Descent
[ “You think you can control this power, but it’s poisoning you. You don’t have to do this.” No, Sloane does not have to do this, but try as he might, it’s his tragedy not to be able to resist the lure of Rambaldi. We’re such suckers to still believe he can be redeemed when his endgame reveals to be the same again and again. Or is it? There is one or two scenes a bit too dense with let’s-tie-loose-ends (the Covenant, all three Derevko sisters, etc.) exposition, but still pretty damn intriguing. ]

4.21 – Search and Rescue
[ GIANT RED BALL! GIANT RED BALL! GIANT RED BALL! This is some goofy comic book shit, but I love it. Anyone else reminded of the end of “Watchmen”? The return of a long-unseen character makes for good drama and a cool jungle action scene à la “Rambo”. Can’t wait for the big finale. ]

4.22 – Before the Flood
[ Supervillains are about to destroy the world, people are turning into rabid zombies, the Russians want to blow up everything, prophecy says one of our heroes is gonna perish at the hand of one of the others… Can you say edge-of-your-seat? And of course, the season ends with one giant bitch of a cliffhanger. A happy ending? It’s never that easy on “Alias”! ]

***

5.1 – Prophet Five
[ Who the hell is André Michaux? Is everything we thought we knew wrong? Do I still care enough about all this nonsense to plan every week this season around watching a TV show? Oh, there’s still plenty of action, international intrigue and 15th century conspiracies, and Jennifer Garner’s pregnant glow should keep me coming back… But what the hell did they do to Vaughn? How many horrors can you put these characters through before it just gets depressing? Granted, I was already bummed down about the state of the world before I started watching this episode, but still… ]

5.2 – …1…
[ Bing. Bang. Boom. Ooh. Ah. Seriously, I might just stop watching this, wait for the DVDs maybe… I love the Garner, but this barely feels like “Alias” anymore. It used to be a great action movie every week, but now it’s down to being good TV, barely. ]

Ok, I give up: I won’t review Season Five until it’s on DVD. Maybe.

THE FILMS OF 2004

THE TEN
Vol. 2 95
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 94
House of Flying Daggers 93
Team America: World Police 92
Les Aimants 91
Before Sunset 90
Tarnation 90
Mar Adentro 90
Shaun of the Dead 90
Sideways 88

CADILLAC
The Passion of the Christ 90
Touching the Void 90
Spider-Man 2 88
Garden State 87
Anchorman 85
The Village 85
Troy 85
Life is a Miracle 84
Main Hoon Na 84
The Corporation 83
The Girl Next Door 80
Fahrenheit 9/11 80
Son Frère 80
Million Dollar Baby 79
Ray 78
Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle 78
Bon Voyage 78
Daytona 77

STEAK KNIVES
The Polar Express 74
mon fils sera arménien 73
Mensonges et trahisons et plus si affinités… 72
Mean Girls 71
Last Life in the Universe 71 (reviewed in FanTasia coverage)
le petit Jésus 70
Nathalie… 70
Vera Drake 70 (reviewed in Festival du Nouveau Cinéma coverage)
Kinsey 70
L’amour en pen / De mémoire de chats 70
La Peau Blanche 69
i ♥ huckabees 69
Monica la Mitraille 69
Hotel Rwanda 68
The Ladykillers 68
Ginger Snaps Unleashed 68
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 67
<A HREF=" Expiration 67
la petite lili 67
Collateral 66
Finding Neverland 66
50 First Dates 65
13 Going on 30 64
Undertow 64
In Good Company 64
Madame Brouette 64
Hellboy 64
mémoires affectives 63 (reviewed in Festival du Nouveau Cinéma coverage)
The Terminal 63
Je t’aime… moi non plus 63 (reviewed in FFM coverage)
The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things 62 (reviewed in Festival du Nouveau Cinéma coverage)
Je n’aime que toi 62
Les côtelettes 62
Le coût de la vie 62
Le chien, le général et les oiseaux 62
Go Further 61
p.s. 61
Shrek 2 61
Make Money. Salut, Bonsoir ! 61
The Dreamers 60
The Woodsman 60
The Incredibles 60
La Planque 60
The Day After Tomorrow 60

FLAWED, BUT WORTH A LOOK
The Notebook 59
Blueberry 58 (reviewed in FanTasia coverage)
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou 57
Young Adam 57
The Door in the Floor 56
Spanglish 56
Les Choristes 56
The Butterfly Effect 55
Trilogia –To livadi pou dakrisi 55 (reviewed in FFM coverage)
Jersey Girl 55
Les oubliés de Herat 55
When Will I Be Loved 55
One Point O 54 (reviewed in FanTasia coverage)
Closer 54
Nos enfants chéris 54
Feux Rouges 53
Man on Fire 52
New York Minute 51
The Aviator 50
Le Dernier Tunnel 49
Palindromes 48 (reviewed in Festival du Nouveau Cinéma coverage)
Some Kind of Monster 47
Premier Juillet 47
clean 46 (reviewed in Festival du Nouveau Cinéma coverage)

NOT WITHOUT WORTH, BUT MEH
cette femme-là 44
Ocean’s Twelve 43
La vida que te espera 42 (reviewed in FFM coverage)
Birth 41
Miaou ! 40
Tristan 39
Van Helsing 38
Memories of Murder 37 (reviewed in FanTasia coverage)
Vanity Fair 37
Demi-Tarif 37 (reviewed in Festival du Nouveau Cinéma coverage)
le bonheur c’est une chanson triste 36
Comme une image 36
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights 36
De-Lovely 35
One of Many 35
Vendus 34
Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning 34 (reviewed in FanTasia coverage)
Les égarés 33
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow 33
Ripoux 3 33
Führer Ex 32
Ma vie en Cinémascope 31
Mariages! 31
La Comunidad 30

DON’T BOTHER
Les 11 commandements 29 (reviewed in Comedia coverage)
Starsky & Hutch 28
Walking Tall 28
Janis et John 27
Elles étaient cinq 27
Childstar 26 (reviewed in Festival du Nouveau Cinéma coverage)
Mille mois 26
Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! 25
C’est pas moi… C’est l’autre ! 25
Breakfast with Hunter 24
Going the Distance 23 (reviewed in Comedia coverage)
Baadasssss! 22
Alien Vs. Predator 22
Nackt 22
7 ans de Mariage… 22
Je Reste! 20
Aime ton père 19
Camping Sauvage 18
The Stepford Wives 17
Jack Paradise, les nuits de Montréal 17
Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen 17
Effroyables Jardins 16

YOU’RE FIRED!
La Lune viendra d’elle-même 15
Le Bison* et sa voisine Dorine 14
A Dirty Shame 13
Dans l’œil du chat 13
The Punisher 12
Comment devenir un trou de cul et enfin plaire aux femmes 11
Coeur à bout 11
RRRrrrr !!! 9
Nouvelle-France 8
Elvis Gratton XXX – La Vengeance d’Elvis Wong 6

AFI 100 (1998 version)

The American Film Institute’s 100 YEARS, 100 FILMS


1: Citizen Kane (1941) 100
[ review ]


2: Casablanca (1942) 100
[ review ]


3: The Godfather (1972) 100
[ review ]


4: Gone with the Wind (1939) 95
[ review ]


5: Lawrence of Arabia (1962) 66
[ review ]


6: The Wizard of Oz (1939) 93
[ review ]


7: The Graduate (1967) 94
[ review ]


8: On the Waterfront (1954) 93
[ review ]


9: Schindler’s List (1993) 95
[ review ]


10: Singin’ in the Rain (1952) 100
[ review ]


11: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) 94
[ review ]

12: Sunset Boulevard (1950) 95
[ Part film noir and part Hollywood satire, this endlessly rewarding film is about the events that led to a homicide in a mansion on the titular road, as recounted by the dead victim! Played by the great William Holden, Joe Gillis is a struggling screenwriter who enters a bizarre relationship with half-mad has been silent film star Norma Desmond, unforgettably portrayed by Gloria Swanson. Gillis also entertains a flirtation with Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson), a cute reader on the Paramount lot, but Norma has her claws too deep in him to allow her gigolo a chance at a normal life… Boasting exquisitely pulpy dialogue (and narration) and expressionistic B&W cinematography, “Sunset Blvd.” is truly one of the greats. ]

13: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) 62
[ Alec Guinness leads a company of British P.O.W.s in occupied Burma who are forced by a Japanese madman to build a railway bridge in this classic WWII film. Shot in CinemaScope, on location in the Ceyton jungle, with hundreds of extras and what might be the largest set ever built for a movie, this 160 minute beast is pure David Lean, for better or worse. I have a feeling I’d be more appreciative of his films if given the opportunity to see them on the big screen. On a small TV, you clearly lose on the epic aspect of the filmmaking, and the slow storytelling can be a chore. Guinness and the Japanese colonel spend almost an hour arguing whether officers should do manual labor. Is this such an important principle? Hundreds of soldiers are worked to death, but the half dozen officers get out of it, whoop-dee-doo. Then the British decide to take the bridge-building seriously and be the most productive possible for their enemy (???) and, as soon as the bridge is finished, Allied commandos blow it up! What was that all about? Goes to show how pointless war is, I guess. The movie’s well crafted and I like William Holden’s smart-ass character, but I don’t feel this is “one of the most memorable cinematic experiences of all time”, as the back of the DVD promises. ]

14: Some Like It Hot (1959) 94
[ This is the best comedy of all time according to the American Film Institute. That might be pushing it a bit (I’m partial to “Dr. Strangelove” or “The Producers” myself), but there’s no denying that this is an incredibly witty and enjoyable flick. It starts off like a gritty gangster film in prohibition era Chicago with car chases and shoot-outs and a raid on an illegal booze joint, but the tone lightens up considerably when the story shifts to Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as musicians who escape all the surrounding mayhem by taking a gig in Florida… in an all-girl band! The back-and-forth between the two actors in drag is very amusing and supporting actress Marilyn Monroe? Zowie! Now that’s a woman! But she’s also got great comic timing, overflowing charm and a great singing voice to boot. ]


15: Star Wars (1977) 90
[ review ]

16: All About Eve (1950) 93
[ When Broadway star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) meets borderline stalker Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), who comes to see her perform in her latest play every night, they hit it off and Eve becomes Margo’s “sister, lawyer, mother, friend, psychiatrist and cop”. But soon enough the honeymoon’s over and the claws come out, as Eve’s initially flattering attempts to become like her idol reveal to be the makings of a cunning coup. Full of bitingly clever dialogue and note-perfect acting, “All About Eve” is a brilliant satire of clashing egos, backstage brouhaha and diva behaviour. “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” ]

17: The African Queen (1951) 90
[ Movie star heaven, with Humphrey Bogart doing his gruff man’s man boat captain against Katherine Hepburn’s sophisticated English lady. Laughs, thrills and sensuality ensue as the two come across white water rapids, wild animals and German soldiers. “I never dreamed a mere physical experience could be so stimulating!” ]


18: Psycho (1960) ???
[ This is the second time that I decide not to give a rating to a film. The first time was for Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The thing with these two films is that I just couldn’t decide if they were truly great or not. I’m aware that they’re timeless classics that were masterfully directed by brilliant filmmakers, and that the logical thing would be to reward these masterpieces with high ratings. The problem is that these two films are… Well, kinda boring to me. Then again, I haven’t watched them since my late teens, so the wise thing might be to revisit them in the near future. ]

19: Chinatown (1974) 88
[ This late addition to the film noir tradition has Jack Nicholson playing a private eye in Depression era Southern California who stumbles upon a political scandal involving the Water Department. This is a tight, tight picture, well written, well acted, well shot and well scored, full of surprising twists and gritty confrontations – how about “midget” Polanski cutting Jack’s nostril! ]


20: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) 92
[ review ]

21: The Grapes of Wrath (1940) 84
[ Your family’s been living, working and dying on this land for generations and now the Man comes in with a piece of paper and wants to take it away? As if the harshness of the Oklahoma “dust bowls” wasn’t enough… Tom Joad and his folks pack up and head for California, hoping for greener pastures, but they only find more sorrow and abuse from the Man. This classic slice of old Hollywood moviemaking is a gripping adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Some of the supporting players overact a storm, but their heart is in the right place and Henry Fonda’s slow-burn performance elevates everything around him. “Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there.” ]


22: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) ???
[ What am I supposed to do with this film? Is it a masterpiece or a bore? Could it be both? In a way, it is indeed truly great. The storyline is very ambitious, attempting to tell the story of humanity from the Dawn of Man to the future, into deep space. Kubrick’s direction is brilliant, the camerawork is inventive, there are countless beautiful shots, and the special effects are excellent for the time. But… It’s so slow! I think it’s the most actionless, even motionless film I’ve ever seen! Then again, I haven’t watched it since my late teens, so the wise thing might be to revisit it in the near future. ]

23: The Maltese Falcon (1941) 95
[ The first collaboration between John Huston and Humphrey Bogart (who also worked together on other brilliant films like “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “The African Queen”) is also Huston’s first picture and, by many accounts, the first film noir. The opening scroll and its mentions of Knight Templars and pirates having been involved with the titular priceless token instantly grabs your attention, the opening scene with private dick Sam Spade rolling a cigarette then meeting with a female client quickly seals the deal, then the twists start unrolling like wildfire and there’s no turning back. The smoky B&W cinematography, the moody score, the hard-boiled dialogue, the femme fatale (“What else is there that I can buy you with?”), the quirky supporting performances by Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet (who both turned out the next year with Bogie in “Casablanca”, probably not coincidentally) and the very Bogartitude of it all are simply intoxicating. It’s a cliché to say that they don’t make them like this anymore, but damn! Every single beat of this yarn is awesome, there’s none of the filler and nonsense that make up so many of the movies today. Sam Spade is one of the coolest characters ever – as the Fat Man tells him at one point, “There’s never any telling what you’ll say or do next, except that it’s bound to be something astonishing.” ]

24: Raging Bull (1980) 92
[ A brilliantly crafted character study with some of the most stunning boxing scenes ever shot and blistering performances by Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. What’s more brutal: the violence in the ring, or the one at home, back in the Bronx? Jake La Motta’s rage is a plus in his boxing career, but it means trouble when he carries it with him in his relations with women, his brother and just about everybody else. This is Scorsese at his best, in form, with virtuoso B&W cinematography and editing, and in content, with another raw yet profound “street-smart” screenplay by Paul Schrader and some of the best acting you’ll ever see. Pesci and De Niro have become self-parodies, but their back-and-forth here is incredibly intense and multi-layered, the two brothers’ relationship being rough, tender, sad, sometimes all at once. The fight scenes are unglamorous, all blood and sweat, hardly Rocky-like inspirational; this is more like something out of German expressionism, with Sugar Ray Robinson looming like an African-American Nosferatu! And then there’s the pathetic third act, with De Niro/La Motta all fat, doing bad stand-up… A truly great biopic. ]


25: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) 97
[ review ]


26: Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) 97
[ review ]

27: Bonnie and Clyde (1967) 69
[ During the Great Depression, an “ignorant, uneducated hillbilly” and “the best damn girl in Texas” are hot for each other, the road and cold hard cash. Armed robberies as foreplay? A life of crime as the only true romance? This is bullshit, but spectacular bullshit that serves the movies well (see also: “Badlands”, “Natural Born Killers”, etc.). Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway look sharp, talk in sexy Southern accents, stick-up banks and drive stolen cars as bluegrass pursuit music blares on! It’s all good… until it isn’t. Clyde ain’t quite the stud he seems to be, Bonnie has wild mood swings and, inevitably, people get killed. Grim stuff, but the movie can also be a lot of fun, like during the hilarious Gene Wilder cameo. “I’m an undertaker!” ]


28: Apocalypse Now (1979) 100
[ review ]

29: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) 87
[ James Stewart is wonderful in this inspirational political fable about an earnest senator’s day-long stand for what he believes in, in spite of his opponents’ cheap tricks. Pure Capra. ]

30: Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) 89
[ Humphrey Bogart is riveting as a down-on-his-luck American in Mexico who takes on prospecting with fellow bum Tim Holt and old-timer Walter Huston. They must face bandits, exhaustion and the paranoid fear of being robbed of one’s share by the others. This is classic studio moviemaking, well-oiled entertainment that never misses a beat but also has a thing or two to say about the darker chambers of the human heart. ]


31: Annie Hall (1977) 95
[ review ]


32: The Godfather Part II (1974) 86
[ review ]

33: High Noon (1952) 70
[ This black and white Western is kinda square, with Gary Cooper’s Marshall walking around like he’s got a stick up his ass and Grace Kelly being all self-righteous (she plays a Quaker) and pretty (oh so pretty). But the plot’s clock (an infamous bandit is coming to kill Cooper on the noon train and the movie counts down the hour until then in real time) builds up a lot of suspense, there are some interesting morality issues (Cooper refuses to flee, even though no one in town will stick his neck out for him) and I love the recurrent theme song (the Oscar-winning Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’. ]

34: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) 97
[ One of the greats, it conveys an essential message about racial harmony with grace and intelligence. Gregory Peck is the father everyone wishes he had. ]

35: It Happened One Night (1934) 62
[ “Remember me? I’m the fella you slept on last night.”
Clark Gable stars as a flippant newshound who hooks up on a night bus to New York with a spoiled brat (Claudette Colbert) running away from her father. This is an old-fashioned romantic comedy, pairing a wisecracking leading man matched with a dame who can snap back at him – it’s “When Harry Met Sally” 50 years early. The plot is thin and the characters aren’t very complex, but Colbert and Gable have chemistry and the banter between them is enjoyable. ]


36: Midnight Cowboy (1969) 90
[ review ]

37: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

38: Double Indemnity (1944) 94
[ Hard-boiled narration, light coming in through venitian blinds, a dame who’s “not fully covered”… This is noir alright, but with Billy Wilder’s cynical sense of humor offsetting things. Right from their first exchange, sparks are flying between Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck:

Phyllis: Mr. Neff, why don’t you drop by tomorrow evening about eight-thirty. He’ll be in then.
Walter Neff: Who?
Phyllis: My husband. You were anxious to talk to him weren’t you?
Walter Neff: Yeah, I was, but I’m sort of getting over the idea, if you know what I mean.
Phyllis: There’s a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff. Forty-five miles an hour.
Walter Neff: How fast was I going, officer?
Phyllis: I’d say around ninety.
Walter Neff: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.
Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.
Walter Neff: Suppose it doesn’t take.
Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.
Walter Neff: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.
Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband’s shoulder.
Walter Neff: That tears it.

Ouch! Then it just gets hotter, scene after scene until… You wouldn’t want to get into this kind of deal because it can only end badly, then again, that very danger is part of the turn-on of a femme fatale! This is genius, from the B&W to the acting, the great lines (courtesy of Wilder and co-writer Raymond Chandler) and the music. Insurance fraud, the perfect murder, an intuitive boss who never has a match for his cigars, “a crazy story with a crazy twist”. Doesn’t get much better than this. ]

39: Doctor Zhivago (1965) 70
[ As I’ve suggested before, either DVD doesn’t do justice to David Lean’s vision or it’s me who doesn’t get it. Watching a film like “Doctor Zhivago”, I certainly admire the majestic Maurice Jarre score, the masterful cinematography and the epic scope of the picture, but I can’t say I fell in love with it like I did with, say, “Double Indemnity”, which might have made an easier transition to the small screen. It’s too bad, because there are a lot of elements that I did love: the bookends with the imposing Alec Guiness (who also provides sparse but cutting narration through the feature), Rod Steiger’s cynical views on mankind (“There are two kinds of men and only two. And that young man is one kind. He is high-minded. He is pure. He’s the kind of man the world pretends to look up to, and in fact despises. He is the kind of man who breeds unhappiness, particularly in women. Do you understand? I think you do. There’s another kind. Not high-minded, not pure, but alive. Now, that your tastes at this time should incline towards the juvenile is understandable; but for you to marry that boy would be a disaster. Because there’s two kinds of women. There are two kinds of women and you, as we well know, are not the first kind. You, my dear, are a slut.”), the palpable dread of the World War I and Russian Revolution sequences, the misery and pseudo-socialist tyranny of Communism… Yet my experience felt incomplete. I haven’t read the Boris Pasternak novel, but on screen there seems to be whole pages missing. We’re rushed through History and the characters’ lives, often being told about greatly dramatic events instead of them being shown to us. Still, we can understand why Omar Sharif’s Zhivago longs for Julie Christie’s Lara – she’s a mess, but oh so fascinating. I wish the film had opened up to me more, but polite admiration is all it got from me. ]


40: North by Northwest (1959) 75
[ review ]


41: West Side Story (1961) 95
[ review ]

42: Rear Window (1954) 95
[ Another great James Stewart film but in quite a different register. Stewart plays a wheelchair-bound magazine photographer who fights boredom by looking out the window into the apartments of his neighbours: the newlyweds, the sexy ballet dancer, the lonely single woman, the pianist… the murderer? This makes for one of the most voyeuristic and suspenseful films Alfred Hitchcock ever directed. “Rear Window” is packed with virtuoso visual storytelling, managing to remain absolutely engrossing even though we never leave Stewart’s tiny little apartment. It doesn’t hurt that his girlfriend is played by the most beautiful woman in the world, Grace Kelly, who never looked better than in this movie. That first close-up of her when she bends to kiss Stewart would make anyone’s heart melt. ]

43: King Kong (1933) 65
[ Foolish white film crew invades primitive black tribe’s island to shoot legendary giant monkey, but serves as dinosaur lunch instead. Meanwhile, Kong gets hot for Fay Wray (who can blame him?) and chases her all the way to New York and to its own doom. Kick ass, brutal stop-motion action more or less makes up for deadly dull human drama, but I still wouldn’t call this a masterpiece. ]

44: The Birth of a Nation (1915) ???
[ An extreme case of dichotomy between artistic genius and abject morality. You want to praise this as early cinema’s most important film, with DW Griffith basically laying out all the bases of camerawork and editing still in use today, but at the same time one wants to throw this ode to the KKK in the darkest pile of cinematic trash. ]


45: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) 93
[ review ]


46: A Clockwork Orange (1971) 92
[ review ]


47: Taxi Driver (1976) 100
[ review ]

48: Jaws (1975) 94
[ Watching this again, more than forty years after it exploded as the first modern Hollywood blockbuster, one can appreciate more than ever the way Spielberg keeps the shark unseen for most of the film and how much time and care he puts in developing Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw’s characters and the way they play off each other. This may not have quite the visceral impact it must have had back then, but it’s still totally badass, with so endless quotable dialogue, iconic shots, memorable scenes… The first half is a quasi horror movie, with a shark slasher stalking the waters around Amity Island. Then the second half is this awesome adventure film, with the central going out at sea on the Orca to kill that damn Bruce. “Jaws” is pretty much a perfect picture, with confident, gripping storytelling, masterful mise en scène, great performances and that classic John Williams score. One of Spielberg’s all-time best. ]

49: Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs (1937) 86
[ I remembered how beautiful and colorful the animation is (gotta love all the cute animals) and how goofy them dwarfs are, but I’d forgotten how evil that Stepmother Queen is: “Kill Snow White and bring back her heart in this box”? Damn! And is it just me or Snow White sounds like she’s a “very special” princess? In any case, this remains a truly charming picture. ]

50: Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969)

51: The Philadelphia Story (1940) 93
[ Katharine Hepburn as a spoiled socialite about to get remarried, Cary Grant as her bitter ex-husband and James Stewart as a snobbish tabloid reporter: quite the cast, isn’t it? This old-fashioned yet incisive romantic comedy is a bit stiff, looking every bit like the filmed play it basically is, but the flawless performances and the wise and witty dialogue more than make up for it. And this that rare movie romance where you actually don’t know who will win the woman’s heart until the very last minute. ]

52: From Here to Eternity (1953)

53: Amadeus (1984) 84
[ Salieri (F. Murray Abraham, in one of the most incendiary “super-villain” performances I’ve ever seen) is chaste and devoted while Mozart (Tom Hulce, irreverent) is a “giggling, dirty-minded creature”. Then why would God give the latter the greater musical genius? This is the fascinating mystery at the heart of this peculiar historic biopic, less a conventional costume drama than a comedy of manners and cruel irony. Even more so, this is an astounding tribute to Mozart’s music, deconstructing and reconstructing it to glorious effect. ]

54: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)


55: The Sound of Music (1965) 93
[ review ]

56: MASH (1970) ???
[ This a totally chaotic and unkempt mess, with nary a plot or character development in sight. This is supposed to reflect the craziness of working as surgeons in the Korean war, I guess, and I understand that what Bob Altman was doing (improvised scenes, overlapping dialogue, guerrilla-style filmmaking) was revolutionary at the time – in Hollywood, at least, because the French Nouvelle Vague was up to the same tricks ten years earlier. Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould are vaguely entertaining, but the movie itself isn’t that funny. ]


57: The Third Man (1949) 94
[ review ]

58: Fantasia (1940) 90
[ Forget the American Idol and the Montreal film festival of the same name, THIS is “Fantasia”. Walt Disney’s imagination spawned countless cultural landmarks, but this might be his most brilliant creation. This series of cartoons inspired by classical pieces of music is kind of like the high art ancestor of MTV. From the abstraction of Toccata and Fugue in D minor to the colourful fairies flying to The Nutcracker Suite, from Mickey Mouse’s unforgettable embodiment of The Sorceror’s Apprentice to the life and death of dinosaurs in The Rite of Spring, from the mythological creatures of The Pastoral Symphony to the Dance of the Hours by hippos in tutus and crocos in capes (!), all the way to the Devil’s Night on Bald Mountain and the elegiac retreat to Ave Maria, this “concert feature” is an astonishing experience. Who needs hallucinogens when you can just watch this trippy flick? ]

59: Rebel Without a Cause (1955) 74
[ This is pure ‘50s Americana cinema, with the Cinemascope, the Technicolor (or actually Warnercolor), the swelling score, the Method acting and, of course, James Dean. The gone too soon actor plays the ultimate angry young man, getting drunk, getting up in his father’s face and getting into knife fights, car races and other trouble. There’s also some rather obvious gay subtext going on, especially through Dean’s relationship with the Sal Mineo character. “Hey, you wanna come home with me. There’s nobody at my house and, heck, I’m not tired…” The film might be overly melodramatic, but it still resonates. ]


60: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 93
[ review ]


61: Vertigo (1958) 100
[ review ]

62: Tootsie (1982) 35
[ I had a hard time getting into this movie. The first act is so inside-ball that it will mostly appeal to viewers who are struggling actors themselves. Dustin Hoffman plays an actor who’s talented but so difficult that no one will hire him, so he decides to put on a wig and become a new man – a wo-man, that is. Second act swings for broader situation comedy, with Hoffman experiencing various mishaps as a female soap opera star. These scenes are mildly entertaining, but I can’t say I laughed at all. Last act about how Dustin becomes a better man after living as a woman is well-meaning, but still nothing particularly inspired. There’s nothing here that wasn’t done a hundred times better in “Some Like it Hot”. ]

63: Stagecoach (1939) 73
[ A stagecoach must ride through Apache country, but the greatest challenge might be for the mismatched passengers to get along. The interaction between the “gentleman” gambler, the soldier’s wife, the drunken doctor, the whore, the banker and the Ringo Kid (a young John Wayne, already iconic) is indeed the most enjoyable thing about this classic B&W Western, though the impending threat does add suspense. And when the attack comes, it’s exciting and full of badass stunts. ]


64: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) 91
[ review ]


65: The Silence of the Lambs (1991) 93
[ review ]

66: Network (1976) 63
[ Peter Finch’s posthumously Oscar-winning turn as a news anchorman turned mad prophet is riveting and the satire of the television world is incisive, but the film is loose, all over the place and uneven. Could have used a good rewrite. ]


67: The Manchurian Candidate (1962) 92
[ review ]

68: An American in Paris (1951) 61
[ The story is paper thin and the romance doesn’t work, but the song and dance numbers are pretty great. ]

69: Shane (1953)

70: The French Connection (1971) 90
[ In France, he guy walks around, buys a baguette, goes home and gets shot in the face. Back in the New York, Roy Scheider and Gene Hackman (the latter dressed as Santa Claus!) run after a “nigger”, then rough him up. Later, our two cops tail a “greaser”, just because he looks suspicious… 20 minutes into the movie, we don’t really know what’s going on, except that the protagonists seem to be antiheroes and that director William Friedkin has a knack for making everything feel tense and gritty. Scheider and Hackman do stakeouts, listen to wiretaps, follow people around… But again, for a long time, we’re not sure what they’re after and the thing is, maybe they don’t either. They just have a hunch or something. Yet thanks to the way each scene is shot, cut and scored, it remains engrossing. “The French Connection” is basically a feature-length chase scene, culminating with the famous sequence in which Hackman tries to catch up to a train in a car. Add a few shootouts and you get one of the best action films of the 70s. ]


71: Forrest Gump (1994) 100
[ review ]

72: Ben-Hur (1959)
73: Wuthering Heights (1939)

74: The Gold Rush (1925) 60
[ Maybe this shoots down whatever credibility I have as a critic, but I just don’t find Charlie Chaplin particularly funny. Oh, I can see his physical skills and sense of timing, and the sentimental beats always touch me but in general this kind of slapstick leaves me cold. ]

75: Dances with Wolves (1990) ???
[ Saw this on VHS back in the day with my parents… I might have fell asleep… Obviously, I need to see it again! ]

76: City Lights (1931) 65
[ Most of this other “timeless classic” of Chaplin didn’t make much of an impression on me but I have to say, the ending is absolutely marvelous. ]

77: American Graffiti (1973) 46
[ review ]


78: Rocky (1976) 91
[ review ]


79: The Deer Hunter (1978) 92
[ review ]


80: The Wild Bunch (1969) 91
[ review ]

81: Modern Times (1936) 70
[ A clock (time is money!), titles (“A story of industry, of individual enterprise – humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness”), then a shot of cattle fading into one of workers rushing out of a subway station! Not very subtle, but an effective opening to this whimsical anti-capitalism / pro-proletariat comedy. I’ve never found the Tramp’s pratfalls particularly funny, but I do admire Chaplin’s physical prowess and the heartfelt, unpretentious way he expresses his convictions. And how cool is it that there’s actually a scene here where he’s high on cocaine and beats up escaping convicts? ]

82: Giant (1956) 79
[ Rock Hudson goes East to buy a stallion and comes back with a beautiful young bride (Liz Taylor). They settle in his giant Texas ranch and learn to deal with the heat, the cows, the Mexican workers, children, grandchildren… and Jett (Jimmy Dean), a headstrong ranch hand who grows up to be an oil tycoon. You can probably guess that mucho drama will come out of all this, building up to an epic saga spanning decades. This is classic but engrossing storytelling, set against a breathtaking backdrop and driven by gorgeous movie stars like they don’t make them anymore. This is kind of a thematic cousin of “Gone With the Wind”; it’s not quite as (Techni)colorful and unforgettable as Scarlett and Rhett’s Song of the South, but Hudson, Taylor and Dean are certainly iconic in their own right. And how about that hamburger joint fisticuff! ]

83: Platoon (1986) ???
[ Saw this a long time ago, so my memory is hazy… I remember some iconic shots, great acting… But also a feeling that this is no “Apocalypse Now”. ]


84: Fargo (1996) 95
[ review ]

85: Duck Soup (1933) 81
[ Groucho Marx is appointed dictator of Freedonia in this endlessly witty and silly political satire. Groucho’s rapid-fire zingers always hit and the perfectly timed physical comedy bits (the lemonade stand, the mirror scene…) are hilarious. ]

86: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

87: Frankenstein (1931) 65
[ “Bride of Frankenstein” is obviously a much more inventive and effective film, but James Whale’s first dig at the Mary Shelley creation offers its share of creepiness and pathos, and you gotta love the atmospheric cinematography, the dramatic sets and the intense performances by Colin Clive as the mad scientist and Boris Karloff as the monster. ]


88: Easy Rider (1969) 91
[ review ]

89: Patton (1970)
90: The Jazz Singer (1927)
91: My Fair Lady (1964)
92: A Place in the Sun (1951)

93: The Apartment (1960) 90
[ Funny, charming and smart if old fashioned. Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine are adorable and I love that the ending is left open. ]


94: GoodFellas (1990) 94
[ review ]


95: Pulp Fiction (1994) 100
[ review ]

96: The Searchers (1956) 64
[ John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards is a man on a mission. After Comanches massacre his kin and kidnap his young niece, he goes out after them and nothing will stop him. Some have accused the film of being racist, but I don’t think so. John Wayne’s character certainly hates “Injuns”, but the film doesn’t necessarily approve of it. He’s clearly drawn as an anti-hero, an obsessed man who will get the girl away from the Comanches even if that means he has to kill her. Wayne is riveting in the role, which makes up for some of the weak supporting cast, lame comic relief and the staged feeling of many of the scenes. I don’t reckon this really is one of the great Westerns, but Wayne’s performance is a must-see. ]

97: Bringing Up Baby (1938) 44
[ I’m generally quite fond of old American movies, but I had much trouble sitting through this “classic” screwball comedy. The humor seemed rather contrived to me and Katherine Hepburn’s manipulative loudmouth and Cary Grant’s stuffy nerd of a zoologist quickly grow obnoxious. I didn’t root for them to hook up, I just wanted them to shut up! The leopard’s pretty cool, though. ]


98: Unforgiven (1992) 93
[ review ]

99: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) 91
[ “He thinks you’re gonna faint because he’s a Negro.”
This old-fashioned yet still relevant meet-the-parents dramedy boasts irresistible performances from the ever charismatic Sidney Poitier, bubbly Katharine Houghton, commanding Kate Hepburn and thoughtful Spencer Tracy. Every character is complex and endearing and the interaction between them is involving from the first to the last minute, even though you could accuse the film of being little more than a TV sitcom. ]

100: Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)