Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Monthly Dose: A Daily Prescription of Films - January 2011

My monthly…
I am doing a little film history research and as a list-maker I decided to make a list of films that I would recommend to most everyone.  These are all films that I admire or even love.  This is not a “best” list, just movies you should see before you're 6 feet under (or if you're like Keith Richard's dad, before you get snorted).
The basics of my film month is…
TITLE of film, YEAR second, then DIRECTOR and any possible notes.
1. Every month I start it with a Charlie Chaplin.
2. Every month has a week dedicated to either a DECADE or a “WAVE” (sub-genres) or even a specific YEAR.
3. Every month will include an outside guest to pick a weekend of films (which may or may not include up to 8 films…for those of you who want to make your weekend a full movie watching one).

This month of January you have your Charlie Chaplin, then a week of Akira Kurosawa, a week of mostly Westerns featuring Clint Eastwood and some Sergio Leone and I will dedicate a weeks worth to the YEAR 1959.
So let’s watch ‘em together if you don’t mind.  I try to pick films that you can get…but some of them you may have to Bit Torrent.  Otherwise your local DVD store or Netflix etc should provide what you need from me.
AND... my guest reviewer this month is a long time film buff; former San Francisco State Film student turned computer programmer and former Union motion-picture projectionist: Jeff Cowan.  He tackled the last weekend of January by focusing on rogue cop films...and all the varieties therein.

Turn off your connection to the outside, put on the movie and maybe something will happen to you...inside. 

Thanks...and hopefully you will tune in next month for a new director, a new theme and a new guest reviewer.

2011 January 01-31. 31 Days of Films:
  1. Modern Times. (1936) Charlie Chaplin. -  Little I need to say about Chaplin because all you need to do is sit down, relax and see real magic happen.
  2. Miller’s Crossing. (1990) Joel Coen. – One of my favorite and I think most underrated Coen Brothers film.  The cast is amazing, the cinematography gorgeous and the dialogue tight like a Mrs. Grundy.
  3. The Fearless Freaks. (2005) Bradley Beesley. – It’s a fun and interesting documentary whether you like the Flaming Lips or not.
  4. Freaks. (1932) Tod Browning.  – There are a lot of stories that swirl around this film, like the one about F. Scott Fitzgerald hanging with the cast while writing his own screenplay or how they found the bulk of the cast…but what you will find, as you watch this film, is HOW THE FUCK DID THEY MAKE THIS?  Man, the end scene gave me nightmares for weeks.  I think David Lynch saw this film A LOT.
  5. Norman McLarenThe Master’s Edition. (2006) Norman McLaren. – This man is probably one of the greatest experimental film-makers ever.  Born and schooled in Scotland he moved to Canada and his work for the National Film Board of Canada eventually earned him an Oscar for the category; Best Documentary, Short Subjects forNeighbours(1953).
  6. Yojimbo. (1961) Akira Kurosawa. -  The first lone wolf of Kurosawa’s samurai tales starring Toshiro Mifune, possibly my favorite gruff actor of all time.  This film idea was stolen by Sergio Leone to become A Fistful Of Dollars.
  7. Sanjuro. (1962) Akira Kurosawa. – The second and final lone wolf samurai story.  This film is a well-knit package that you can enjoy both the story and it’s execution.  Like watching a great chess match.
  8. Ran. (1985) Akira Kurosawa. - A beautiful and enormous color film that combines King Lear with a Japanese legend.  It really is a monumental film, Kurosawa spent 10 years storyboarding every shot in this film; it’s like watching a series of “motion” paintings that depict a historical event.
  9. Dreams. (1990) Akira Kurosawa. – There are parts of this film I love and parts of it where I am wondering if I put enough ice in my whiskey glass.
  10. Rashomon. (1950) Akira Kurosawa. – The film that put Kurosawa on the map by winning him a Golden Lion and an Oscar. A singular event, the rape of a woman and the death of her husband, told in flashbacks to a Japanese court by four witnesses (including the ghost of the dead man).
  11. High & Low. (1963) Akira Kurosawa. – A departure from swinging swords.  Toshiro Mifune is a successful businessman finds himself the target of a kidnapper’s hate and envy.  A riveting well-written detective’ish film.
  12. Seven Samurai. (1954) Akira Kurosawa. -  What can I say that hasn’t been said about this hugely influential film…An epic 3-hour film about how some poor village farmers, who live during the Warring States period in Japan (1588), end up hiring 7 samurai to protect their village from being decimated from bandits who plan on taking all their food (and some of their women) when the harvest ends in a few weeks time.
  13. A Fistful of Dollars. (1964) Sergio Leone.  – Leone borrowed Yojimbo from Kurosawa and made this fine film that began his “Man with No Name” series and also the sub-genre: Spaghetti Westerns.
  14. High Plains Drifter. (1973) Clint Eastwood. – Eastwood’s directorial debut takes you into a very dark but at times humorous world of a small town with a few hell sworn secrets.
  15. Once Upon a Time in the West. (1968) Sergio Leone. – The opening scene is pure cine-awesome.  Henry Fonda, a very young Charles Bronson and Jason Robarbs rock the casting alongside Ms. Claudia Cardinale, who is to die for.
  16. Dirty Harry. (1971) Don Siegel. -  What can I say?  Eastwood went from toting a gun in the desert to a gun in San Francisco.  Either way it created a path for a lot of other films/film characters to follow.
  17. Cocksucker Blues. (1972) Robert Frank.  – Robert Frank is far and away one of my favorite photographers.  Swiss born Frank spent the late 1950’s photographing all around the United States culminating his work in a book called, The Americans (which was banned in the US for years because the government was outraged by his honest portrayal of it’s citizens). This book and his other work convinced the Stones to hire him during their 1972 documentary tour.  Like The Americans this film was banned by THE ROLLING STONES because they were afraid of how it depicted them.
  18. Hedwig & the Angry Inch. (2001). John Cameron Mitchell. – This film made me cry.  I loved it, the script the casting the production design the editing and I gotta say the MUSIC was fucking dead right on.  Plus it’s hilarious.
  19. Twilight ZoneVolume 2. (1959) Rod Serling.  - Some of my favorite episodes: "Time Enough at Last" (Ep. 8, November 20, 1959) - "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" (Ep. 22, March 4, 1960) - "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (Ep. 123, October 11, 1963) - "The Odyssey of Flight 33" (Ep. 54, February 24, 1961).
  20. Les Quatre Cent Coups aka 400 Blows. (1959) François Truffaut.  - No, it’s not a porno…This is Truffaut’s first film (previously he was working as a film critic for film magazine Cahiers du cinéma) based on his childhood.  An interesting fact is that the 13 year old kid who starred in this film (Jean Pierre Leaud) as Antoine Doinel would continue to play this character for 20 years "The Antoine Doinel Cycle".  Get the DVD that comes with Truffaut’s short film Antoine & Colette.
  21. North by Northwest (1959) Alfred Hitchcock. – Cary Grant running across the dusty acres of farmland from an airplane that wants to moe him down.  What else do you need to know?  If that’s not enough you got Bernard Herrmann’s score, Saul Bass’ intro titles, Eve Marie Saint as the heroine and James Mason as the heavy.  
  22. Some Like It Hot (1959) Billy Wilder. – Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe are thrilling in this slightly deviant comic film about two guys who are on the run from the mob (they witness the 1929’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre) and disguise themselves by cross-dressing and joining an all-girls band.  The comic timing from Curtis and Lemmon and Wilder/Diamond’s script is what keeps this film fresh and sassy for even today’s world.
  23. Shadows (1959) John Cassavetes. – Primarily known as an actor, John Cassavetes is by general agreement the “Grandfather” of American independent cinema.  Spurred on by the French “New Wave” films of Godard, Truffaut, et Bresson plus being in love with the Jazz gods of the times, Cassavetes dove into making an “improvisation”…a film that was like a jazz score…hot, dynamic, raw yet technically proficient but improvised to create the atmosphere of the space it was in.
  24. A Bout De Souffle. (Breathless) (1959) Jean-Luc Godard. – Like Truffaut (the script was actually written by Truffaut) Godard was a film critic for Cahiers and like Truffaut Godard wanted to tear down Hollywood by creating films as the auteurs (the directors) wanted…versus as the studio suits wanted.  The film is lovely satire and engagement, with crafty performances by the two Jeans…Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg (a lovely actress who’s life and career were cut short for reasons I will never understand). It is truly a modern love story…for any decade.
  25. Anatomy of a Murder (1959) Otto Preminger. – Saul Bass is pretty much an unknown to most people.  But for most film fans he is the mad-awesome creator of film posters and film titles.  Which leads to this film and it’s Saul Bass into along with the score written by Duke Ellington and the absolutely lovely lovely Lee Remick.   And let me not forget to mention Ben Gazzara and Jimmy Stewart’s performances in what is an amazing courtroom trial film (and so much more too).
  26. Pickpocket (1959) Robert Bresson. –Bresson’s goal with actors (whom he termed as “models”) was to get non-actors to perform theatre…but in front of a movie camera.  Unsettling and metaphoric, Bresson’s work may take a gourmand to appreciate it’s strange subtleties but I think will satisfy nonetheless.  
  27. Ghostbusters (1984) Ivan Reitman. –  Nothing much needs to be said about this film except I asked my mom to get me the soundtrack…Thus, as my life knows it, it was the first cassette tape I ever owned. (yes…cassette…a magnetic tape with several recording qualities from Type1 to F’ing Metal!!!)
  28. Jeff COWAN’s NOTE: In some ways, I’m willing to include both the Lone Wolf Good and Bad Cops. Both are rogues, but their underlying motivations can be very different. Dirty Harry vs. Bad Lieutenant for example. Note also there’s an incredible amount of garbage in this category... almost every Chuck Norris movie ever made.... Each of these films take a different spin on the subject. Is it man vs. man, man vs. department, man vs. society. The character’s personal motivations also come into play. WHY is each motivated to act the way they do.
  1. The Running Man (1987) - Paul Michael Glaser. - Schwartzenegger again in this cop-wrongly-accused film. In this case, he uses the vehicle of a bizarre game to win his freedom and seek justice and revenge.
  2. Bullitt (1968) - Peter Yates. - Steve McQueen is charged with being the rogue cop by both the department and the political powers that be, but when he senses not all is right, he has to take matters into his own hands.
  3. Hard Boiled (1992)- John Woo. - The Jon Woo / Chow Yun-Fat classic. Hard Boiled detective has to go outside the system to bring down the triad. Pure Hong Kong style action, farcical but visceral. First saw this at Hong Kong night at the UC Berkeley theatre.
  4. Total Recall (1990)- Paul Verhoeven. - Similar to Robocop in that one’s memory is being recalled. In this case, it’s more a matter of being fucked with. Can the hero trust who he is and what is real? And how does that affect his transformation?
  5. The Departed  (2006)- Martin Scorcese. - Two “cops”, one real and one a mobster, living double lives and going underground against each other. Again, mano-a-mano with the obsession of living the life of double agents.
  6. Bad Lieutenant (1992)- Abel Ferrara. -  A bad cop attempts to mend his ways. A reverse of the standard model, Keitel’s performance is gripping.
  7. L.A. Confidential (1997) Curtis Hanson. - This is a different take on the genre. Corrupt department, three cops each with their own motivations. How will they pursue justice without succumbing to corruption, or will they?
  8. Robocop (1987) Paul Verhoeven. - Techno-cop flick. A cop transformed into a robot, he rediscovers himself, “transforms” again and seeks justice in a new form.
  1. Jeff (cont.): Interesting to note that Dirty Harry is not specifically IN this category but several films are listed on the main page. No question that Eastwood helped define the style. There are man parallels with Chow Yun-Fat. The escalation of violence is a common theme. This resonates with the audience, seeking to resolve their sense of moral outrage. Satisfaction. Are the wheel of justice not fast enough???
  2. Happy Birthday Miriam!
  3. Cool Hand Luke (1967) Stuart Rosenberg. – Paul Newman is all quiet and steel here... with young Dennis Hopper and Harry Dean Stanton who along with George Kennedy fill the film with unforgettable scenes and a song sung by Blue Eyes Newman, Plastic Jesus.

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