Sunday, September 2, 2012

Top 10 30/08/2012

Run Lola Run: A gimmick movie must either play the gimmick to exhaustion and provide maximum fun doing so to the extent that its audience will also feel exhausted, albeit pleasantly, or it must offer substance beyond the scope of the gimmick. Run Lola Run does both. Lola gets a frantic call from boyfriend Manni who's lost a bag of his gangster boss' cash on the train. He has to hand it over in minutes. Lola runs to his rescue, trying whatever she can to get the money. This happens three times in parallel with very different results. Within each time incidental character's lives are affected (shown in rapid slide shows), also very differently. While most of it moves at a gallop there are pockets of expertly judged relief, allowing character and thematic development which still seem to speed thanks to a dynamic techno score. Dated? Watch it and tell me. This film does run on a gimmick but it's so tightly woven into the piece that you will have neither time nor breath to care about it. If you still do then you are an enemy of fun.

Eraserhead: The closest thing I've seen on screen to match day to day imagination with realisation.

Citizen Kane: Just because it's well loved doesn't mean it's overrated. CK remains a constantly engaging and intriguing piece.

Vivre sa Vie: Finally got around to my Blu-ray of this and was glad I did. This is a particularly rich junction of Anna Karina's force as actor and screen presence, her husband Jean Luc's affinity with this and the notions associated with prostitution, Raoul Coutard's complete mastery over the black and white image, sound design to kill and mise en scene to bury. I say this even though this is not my favourite Godard film (that's either Two or Three Things I Know About Her or Masculin/Feminin). It's just very rich cinema. Almost made me want to take up Gauloises again.

Network: Prophetic, angry, ceaselessly witty with a cast good enough to make utterly improbable speeches sound natural, Paddy Chayefsky's hymn of hate to the television that began his career works just as well as an arch satire on the ruthlessness of the corporation when offered the opportunity to pursue more of itself. Stellar.

Dog Day Afternoon: Another Sidney Lumet 'un like Network from his glory decade. Al Pacino  and John Cazale play out the bank siege so bizarre it might have been invented by a tabloid paper. Pacino is holding up the bank to pay for a sex change operation for his extra-marital lover. Constantly entertaining, this swings easily between tension and hilarity without compromising either. All this and that tough look given to everything from screwball comedy to hardarse drama in the early 70s. If you profess a love of cinema but haven't yet seen this then you are not good enough for me; there is something wrong with you.

Mephisto: Extraordinary tale of Weimar era German actor whose love of his craft and ambition see him dancing with devil after devil until the Nazis give him everything he asks for. They only want one thing in return: he must play the Faustian title character for their audience, the German people. Klaus Maria Brandauer offers his life's performance of the actor doing the same. There is such unbreakable integration between theme, character and player in this film that it would have worked on old video in a single set. Hungarian helmer Istvan Szabo's control lavishes period detail and majesty on to the image to the extent that we in the audience have no problem at all latching ourselves on to Brandauer's back, rejoicing at this success and bemoaning the deserving punishments that await him. Neither Szabo nor Brandauer were one trick ponies (take the superb Colonel Redl, for example) but this collaboration will delight for evermore.

Double Indemnity: Uber noir with conspirators planning to scam a life insurer and run off into crime-pays paradise that awaits all scammers, consters, bandits and gangsters in movies. Told as a confession from the inside man/paramour to his boss and progresses to a series of flashbacks, this double threaded  (central relationship and cat and mouse investigation) crimer cannot fail. Why? Because it has a cast that either were doing the best at what they'd always done (Edward G. Robinson) or stamping a trademark that would feed the rest of their careers even when playing against type. Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck trading lines simultaneously sexy and funny created a blueprint for most of the boy girl screen pairings to follow for decades. And then there's Billy Wilder, one of the most potently creative and dogged escapees from Hitlerville who ever landed in Hollywood. If you dig noir you really ought to own this one. Which reminds me ...

The Tenant: My favourite Polanski film and he made some great ones. Identity and submission to a nightmarish normality enacted by the director himself. Unrelenting, stark and often hilarious ("Drinks for everyone, everyone except for HIM!") this is a story for anyone who has ever felt the crush of conformity and resisted. Also, a very convincing gothic atmosphere in a modern urban environment. Paris has never looked so forbidding.

The Sweet Smell of Success: Tony Curtis as a sinking press agent needs the column inches blessing of Queen Bitch Burt Lancaster to save his clients and himself. There's a catch because there always is. Tony has break up the romance between Burt's sister and a jazz man. A very ugly battleground played with elegant force by all. Nasty and compelling.

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