Cinememe: Fifteen Most Memorable Movies

I was going to post an up-date explaining what's going on with the store (electrician's coming in on Tuesday, after which we'll really be able to start building!) and how I don't have a life worth blogging about — then I decided not to blog about them. Meanwhile, Sooguy has provided me with inspiration in another form. To whit, a meme — click the "Read More" button if you're interested in which movies pique this viewers fancies.

Fifteen films in fifteen minutes!
(May not actually be do-able in 15 minutes!)

Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen movies you've seen that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall with no more than 15 minutes. [Sheesh! Why are these intros always barely literate? And no, I'm not blaming you, Sooguy!]

  1. Star Wars, 1977: Of course this film takes pride of place on my list! I was 12 years old when it came out and there had never been anything like it before. Even more, I was a science fiction reader and so was doubly-thrilled not just by the spaceships but by the aliens. Pure magic for me then, and the memory of the experience will never entirely fade.
  2. The Philadelphia Story, 1940: I think I was lucky enough to first see this at a rep-theatre. Knowing Cary Grant only from his handsome mug I had long been under the misapprehension he was "only" a romantic lead, rather than the brilliant physical comedian he also was. With a cast including Catherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart, The Philadelphia Story still holds up as All That A Romantic Comedy should be: emotionally gripping, witty, clever and populated by characters, not stereotypes, so that the inevitable happy ending nevertheless feels real and well-worth the voyage to get there. If you haven't yet had the pleasure, for god's sake see it soon!
  3. Bolero (Les uns et les autres), 1981: Saw this in my early teens and don't remember it in detail — indeed, I suspect I didn't much understand it at all, despite the subtitles and my own command of French — but two elements of it are indelibly inscribed in the brain of the man I am now. First, Ravel's hypnotic and haunting "Boléro", which weaves in and out of the soundtrack like some wonderfully demented broken record. The second is what I remember being a fifteen-minute dance by a muscular, bare-chested man who by that performance convinced me that dance could be, yes, sublime.
  4. Atanarjuat, 2001: A "foreign" film from my own country. Atanarjuat is an Inuit-made film about an ancient Inuit myth ("The fast runner") and as such is a fascinating look into a culture that lived as hunter-gatherers within living memory. It is also (if memory serves) a brilliant piece of film-making, with plot, character and the nearly infinite white landscape all coming together for an unforgettable cinematic experience.
  5. But as the first item in this list shows, I am not here attempting to list the 15 "best" films I have seen, but the 15 most memorable.

  6. The Raven, 1963: I first saw this on a black and white television with my father and younger brother. Those were the days when our television set was (even then) an ancient black-and-white floor-model that literally took three minutes to warm up and for which my brother and eye took turns playing remote control. "Ding! Ding!" dad would call when a commercial was about to start, and one of us would rush to the screen to turn off the sound.

    One of Roger Corman's many B-movies of the time, this bizarre tale of two wizards (Vincent Price! Boris Karloff!) engaged in a battle to the death has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Poe's poem, The Raven also features Peter Lorre and (!)Jack Nicholson(!), looking very out of place in one of his first roles. (Where Price and company were hamming it up for all they were worth, Nicholson looks like he's trying to act, seeking motivation for a character that simply doesn't have the depth to support any.)

    I've seen it a couple of times since, and it holds up well as an idiot's delight.

  7. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968: Boring, pretentious and non-sensical are three adjectives I've seen hurled at this remarkable movie and I can't argue with any of them. Kubrick was falling from (or rising towards, take your pick) being an artist whose primary goal was to communicate with a mass audience, to one simply in communion with himself — come along for the ride or not, Kubrick didn't care.

    I'm one of those who did and does find the film crawls at times, and who thinks the ending makes no sense at all. But I still think it's a magnificent piece of film-making. Mating "On The Beautiful Blue Danube" with space travel, made those ships (all obeying Newton's Third Law, something also un-heard of in SF films before or since), made the silent mechanics of space travel into nothing less than a balletic ode to the future.

    This is not a movie for the twitter generation, so be prepared to sit down and really watch it, if you're going to give it a try (which you should do). While there's much to criticize, there is also much to think about and much to simply enjoy.

  8. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 1964: Another Kubrick, this time in black and white and this time almost without flaw. Peter Sellers plays the titular character, a semi-paralyzed "former" Nazi scientist now working for the Pentagon; the President of the United States; and an upright English army officer and an innocent viewer would probably assume three different actors. But that's merely trivia.

    Kubrick's satire skewers the military and political worlds with a keen and vicious eye, managing to provide the viewer with all the suspense of a good thriller and the belly laughs of the best of the Marx Brothers. "Gentlemen, please! You can't fight in here! This is the war room!" Oh hell, if you haven't seen it, then repair that flaw now.

  9. The Great Dictator, 1940: I was nine or 10 the summer the CBC played just about all of Chaplin's major movies, probably on Saturday nights. In any event, it was must-see television for our entire family, and a revelation to me. The closest I had then seen to Chaplin's physical comedy was Don Adams' Get Smart, and good as the latter was, it was clear to me then (it's actually less clear to me now, but that's a digression for another time) that Chaplin's work was simply on another (higher) level entirely. In the years since I've blown hot and cold on Chaplin, but the "dance" in which his Hitler parody plays with a giant balloon marked with the world's continents and oceans will stay with me always.
  10. Duck Soup, 1933: What can I say that hasn't been said a thousand times before? This is the Marx Brothers at the top of their game — anarchic satire, pratfalls and wordplay with scarcely a musical interlude to slow things down. See it in a theatre if you can, rent it with a few friends who like to laugh if you can't.
  11. The Petrified Forest, 1936: My first exposure to Bette Davis and one of my first to Humphrey Bogart, The Petrified Forest was all about the threat of violence, rather than violence itself. Stagey, perhaps, but compelling as hell when I saw it on television and one I've revisited a few times since. Based on a stage-play, it's definitely primitive film-making, but primitive doesn't mean bad.
  12. Bliss, 1985: I saw this on first release and have seen it again and again and again. This painful depiction of love, lust and the traps one can set for oneself, this movie is at once a painfully funny black-comedy, a heart-breaking romance and withering social critique, with bits of surrealism thrown in for good measure. It has a closing scene almost as powerful as Sam returning home after seeing Frodo sail off to the Grey Havens in Tolkien's version of The Lord of the Rings. I still start weeping minutes before that devasting closing voice-over: "He was our father. He told stories, and he planted trees." What an epitaph. What a movie.
  13. Henry V, 1989: When I first saw this movie, I was convinced that Kenneth Brannagh was the reincarnation of Orson Welles; sadly (and like Welles), Brannagh doesn't seem to have managed to live up to that promise. But still, his Henry V is a bloody brilliant adaptation of Shakespeare's play, respectful of the original source material but fully aware that film and stage are two very different beasts indeed.
  14. The Wizard of Oz, 1939: I saw it as a wee boy-kid, as an adolescent, as an adult; I've seen on television, on video and in the theatre. The Great American Fairy Tale, this is one of those movies that speaks (and sings!) to just about everyone. The Wizard of Oz is scary and goofy, cynical and maudlin — all that, and much, much more. You know: a classic. Really.
  15. Casablanca, 1942: Speaking of American fairy tales, Casablanca has to be on any such list. Humphrey Bogart's reluctant hero, the brooding, cynical and tortured Rick Blaine is utterly compelling, as is his supporting cast (which includes not nearly enough Peter Lorre for my tastes; but that's almost always the case with him). Some of the sexual politics have, um, not aged well (I can no longer manage anything like a sympathetic smirk when Claude Rains' Captain Renault takes yet another young and attractive refugee into his office for an exchange of sexual "favours" for a visa) and, yes, the story manipulates its audience with no more shame than Captain Renault, but — damn it! — when the manipulation is as good as it is here, it's hard to complain too much. As for Bogey and me, Casablanca surely was "the begining of a beautiful friendship".
  16. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, 1999: I'm almost embarrassed to end my list with this one, but what the hell — it is a mighty memorable movie. Foul-mouthed 3rd grader heroes, political satire, great songs, a plot that actually makes sense (more or less) and a generally hilarious anarchic sense of humour all serve to make this movie one for the ages. But be warned: If the very idea of songs with lyrics like, "Shut your fucking face, uncle-fucker" twist your undies into a knot, it might not be your cup of tea. For the record, both my brother and my mother agreed it was one of "the dumbest" movies they'd ever seen after I'd foisted it upon them. My mileage, obviously, varied quite a lot.

Hell. Where's Rushmore? Where's Election? And what about Apocalypse Now? Or Manhattan? Or Jésus de Montréal? Or Citizen Kane or The Meaning of Life or High Noon or, or, or ...

Well screw it. This was supposed to be done in one sitting ("15 minutes" was the original formulation) and so I have done. Maybe someday I'll put together a list of "best", rather than "most memorable". For now, this serves pretty well as a snap-shot of what I currently think of as memorable movies.

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