Some Mixed Thoughts on “Midnight in Paris”

While, this is not technically a film review, I did want to vent a bit on Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, which is getting raves from critics and the public alike. This is great news, as Mr. Allen has been somewhat off his game for a few years and, as a tremendous fan of his work, I could not be happier. Hell, just look at the graphic I use as my avatar on this site! The movie also looks like it will easily eclipse Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) as his greatest domestic box-office success. This is also good news because I don’t think nearly enough people give his films a chance. Well, the modern-day fairy tale Midnight in Paris has been out for a while now, so I am a little late to the game…but after seeing it a couple of weeks ago, I felt I had to — as an objective admirer of his artistry — jot down some of my very profound thoughts. 🙂

First, the good. Anyone familiar with Allen’s canon of work knows that he’s been tapping the well pretty dry as of late. Same themes and the same characters in pretty unoriginal and disappointing films. With Midnight in Paris, Allen brings to the screen his most imaginative and creative movie since The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). That’s saying something and was very refreshing to finally see. It’s also been a bit challenging to find a suitable Woody archetype to play the lead roles. John Cusack did it very well. Here, Owen Wilson does a wonderful job as Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter who is struggling to finish his first novel. He is affable, charming, witty, and romantic.

Woody usually gets great performances from his all-star ensembles, and this film is no different. Adrien Brody is magnificent in the one scene he is in, playing Salvador Dali. He is hysterical and nearly steals the show. The lovely Marion Cotillard is also a wonder to watch as Pablo Picasso’s mistress. Michael Sheen is perfectly cast as the pseudo-intellectual who knows much less about art and culture than he’d like to think. You dislike him just the right amount. Kathy Bates (as Gertrude Stein), Corey Stoll (Ernest Hemingway), Allison Pill (as Zelda Fitzgerald) also stand out and deliver some fun and believable performances as their 1920’s icons.

It was a lot of fun keeping your eyes out, waiting to see which famous character we would be introduced to next. Picasso, Gauguin, Degas, Bunuel, Eliot, Fitzgerald? They’re all here and having a ball. The costume design and art direction provide a genuine look and feel of Paris in the 20’s, which is no surprise as Allen’s period pieces always do an admirable job of this.

And now for the not so good. Rachel McAdams is too bitchy and too dislikable as Gil’s fiancee. Her mother too. You just can’t stand them, which I know is the idea — but it is laid on too thick, giving the characters little dimension. My biggest flaw with the film was that for a movie with such a remarkable premise to it…so magical and so fantastic…it doesn’t go nearly as far as it should. Other than introducing a number of famous cultural icons to us, very little is done with them. Subplots arise with little follow-through. And the ending itself is far too abrupt. It just…ends. You are left wanting more — and not in a good way. Rather, you’re left (at least I was) feeling somewhat let down. I felt that this time, Woody was almost there…he had a great idea, a solid script, strong performances, lovely design and locations…and just didn’t take it all the way home.

So all in all — a cute, fun, highly imaginative film that unfortunately could have gone much further and ranked among Woody’s best. I have read all of the hoopla declaring that “Woody’s back!” and that Midnight in Paris ranks among his greatest films ever. I think, after so many stinkers during the past decade, that the bar has been set a bit low, so the hype here is overdone. It’s a very good movie — and I surely recommend people to go see it — but in my opinion, doesn’t go into his Top 10.

My Rating:

Anticipating Woody Allen’s New Film

So — it’s that time of year again. A time where hope springs eternal. A time for cautious optimism — and a time for well-deserved skepticism. Almost as clockwork as waiting for Puxatony Phil to show his face each and every year, comes the release of a new film release by the legendary auteur Woody Allen.  This year, Midnight in Paris (Allen’s 42nd feature film) is scheduled for release and opens this week (after debuting to rather positive reviews at the Cannes Film Festival).

As always, Allen has been able to bring together a star-studded cast to speak the lines of the aristocracy. For Midnight in Paris, we are treated to Oscar winners Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates, and Marion Cotillard — as well as co-stars Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Alison Pill, and Carla Bruni. But it is usually not the cast that has been the problem with some of Allen’s films for the past 10+ years — sadly, it has been the bland storytelling and the writer/director himself revisiting the same old themes using the same old characters in his films. I have written about this quite a bit on The Lantern, so I won’t bother repeating myself here. Suffice it say that I remain a tremendous fan of Mr. Allen — I still feel he is one of the finest American filmmakers we have. However, his batting average since 1999’s wonderful Sweet and Lowdown has not been a very impressive one. I keep hoping that he will stretch himself as an artist and explore new ground, but this is rarely the case — and I am slowly giving up on this dream with each new film released.

I enjoyed last year’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger very much. Though it tackles many of his favorite subjects, the writing was much sharper and more genuine — and the cast gave wonderful performances. It was a strong 3-star film. The romantic comedy Midnight in Paris — the first film that Allen has shot entirely on location in Paris — so far has pretty good word of mouth, even getting a solid 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes as I write this post. We shall soon see. With the slow decline in Allen’s work over the years, critics have had a tendency to over-praise his good films (a la Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona), proclaiming them to be much more than they are, simply on the basis of comparing them to such duds as Anyone Else, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Scoop. Of course they look like masterpieces compared to these embarrassing efforts.

But, as I do every year, I will be at the theater this weekend and pay for my ticket. Woody’s films always get my money. I will wait with baited breath and hope for the best. Fingers crossed.

My review of You Will Meet A Tall Dark Strangerclick here

My Top 10 Films of Woody Allenclick here

Film Review: Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger”

I am not a Chicago Cubs fan, but I would imagine that being a fan of the iconic Woody Allen is a lot like being crazy about the historic baseball franchise that has been without a championship for over a century now. Each spring brings with it a sense of hope and optimism – that this will be the year all of the baseball demons will be put to rest…only to have those dreams squashed come October. For the past decade or so, I have felt the same about a new Woody Allen release. I read about it, watch the trailer, eagerly anticipate its release, and finally see it – only to exit the theatre feeling (more times than not) quite disappointed and a bit frustrated. Such has been the case with films like Scoop, Melinda and Melinda, the dreadful Anything Else and a number of others since 1999’s wonderful Sweet and Lowdown. But, like the crazed Cubs fan, I remain cautiously optimistic with each go-around. Such was the case going in to see his latest work, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Mr. Allen’s 41st film.

Woody’s latest “tale of sound and fury signifying nothing” (stated as such by the film’s narrator) is an entertaining, well-written, thoughtful film that stands out above most of the filmmaker’s most recent, mediocre works. It isn’t a comedy, though there are a number of humorous moments. The feel is more of a lightweight drama. Material-wise, he’s not covering any new ground here. Again, we are introduced to couples struggling in their marriages, the artist’s ambition & toil for success, the afterlife, adultery, and the inevitability of growing old. However, the characters here ring more genuine and are more engaging than most of the recent characters who have spoken Woody’s words. The dialogue is not as stilted nor as dated as previous scripts, coming off as more realistic and lifelike. The editing and tempo here are also first-rate, moving everything along quite smoothly. And as always, Woody manages to bring in some superlative actors to frame his ensemble. Sometimes these hodgepodges of big-name celebrities don’t come off and feels uneven – maybe someone isn’t particularly appropriate for a certain role. Not here. All the main players fit their roles flawlessly and there a handful of scenes that capture an absolute sense of authenticity that it is riveting to watch.

Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones) have been married for years, but Alfie is becoming increasingly aware of his own mortality. Helena only serves to be a constant nagging reminder of this fact, so he leaves abruptly her and tries to find his long-lost youth. In the process, he moves on and quickly marries the very young Charmaine (Judy Punch), a hard-edged prostitute who Alfie wants to give a more luxurious life to. Their daughter Sally (a very strong Naomi Watts) is unhappily married to Roy (Josh Brolin), a writer whose first book some time ago made quite a stir. Roy though has been struggling for years with his latest novel, trying desperately not to become a one-hit wonder. The pressure has put quite a strain on the marriage as they both privately seek out possible substitutes. She, with her new art gallery boss (Antonio Banderas, refreshingly effective) and he, with the mysterious and beautiful stranger (Freida Pinto) who has just moved in to the building across the street. Gemma Jones is especially magnificent here as the flighty mother who has become obsessed with everything her spiritual advisor tells her. She and her son-in-law have never seen eye-to-eye and the scenes with both Jones and Brolin make for great drama. Brolin fits very well here and his own subplot (involving a writer-friend who is in a coma) plays out brilliantly, and ends with fascinating ambiguity. Hopkins is well cast, and doesn’t fall for the trap of playing Woody’s alter-ego like so many have done in the past. The character is his and he is certainly well-suited for it, though he doesn’t get to do all that much with it.

The Shakespeare quote that begins and ends the film is taken from one of Macbeth’s more famous soliloquies (Act V, Scene 5), when the King of Scotland has just been informed of his wife’s suicide. Macbeth ponders the meaning of life and what it’s all for. He feels that, in the end, life is simply a tale “told by an idiot…signifying nothing.” Any movie-goer familiar with Allen’s works knows that he shares this sentiment through many of his characters. You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is indeed a fine tale — told by no idiot at all. And though it is by no means one of his very best films (a difficult feat to accomplish), it remains a worthy achievement, that should surely be considered one of the stronger works in the great canon of Woody Allen films. I’d recommend any fan of his to see it.

Rating:     
Year:         2010
Director:  Woody Allen

15 Directors Meme

I got tagged. This time, by Sebastian over at Films from the Supermassive Black Hole, who was thoughtful enough to pass this Meme along to me. The task? Easy enough. Come up with 15 filmmakers that helped shape the way I look at motion pictures. These are the directors that go to the top of my list – prolific directors who have made, in my estimation, some of the most profound, thought-provoking, and entertaining films in the history of cinema. They are, in no particular order:

 

1. Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather trilogy)
2. Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront)
3. Sidney Lumet (Network)
4. Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange)
5. John Cassavetes (A Woman Under the Influence)
6. Vittorio De Sica (Umberto D.)
7. Charles Chaplin (Limelight)
8. Ingmar Bergman (Scenes from A Marriage)
      my blog’s name is in homage to him so he better be on this list!
9. Woody Allen (Crimes and Misdemeanors)
10. David Lynch (Blue Velvet)
11. Joel and Ethan Coen (Barton Fink)
12. Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull)
13. Oliver Stone (JFK)
14. Billy Wilder (Witness for the Prosecution)
15. Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven)

And now to do some tagging of my own (pinky finger to my lips accompanied by a deep, menacing laugh). I will try and select some of my favorite film bloggers who I don’t think have participated just yet. All awesome blogs that I frequent quite often. Time to give these thoughtful film gurus some homework…Plus, I’d love to see what directors are on their personal lists.

Gimme 5: Dream Dinner Invites!

After a one-week hiatus, the “Gimme 5” is back & ready for your feedback! Reminiscent of the IFC program “Dinner for Five” (hosted by Jon Favreau) where celebrities sat around eating, drinking and sharing their stories about projects past and present, I thought it would be a fun and interesting question to ask you — who is your dream guest list if you had the choice of having five Hollywood celebrities over to eat, drink and be merry with. The artists can be dead or alive. Ideally, they should be five people you consider fascinating and would want to spend an evening with.

So…Who Is Coming To Dinner???

GIMME 5: DREAM DINNER INVITES!!!

Here Is My Guest List…

#1. Marlon Brando
(not only my all-time favorite actor, but a fascinating & complex human being. I loved hearing him speak)
#2. Jackie Gleason
(he would probably drink everyone under the table, but he has always been one of my heroes…and oh, so talented)
#3. Charles Chaplin
(I don’t think he & Brando would speak to one another, but he is one of the handful of geniuses in the history of cinema)
#4. John Cassavetes
(A true maverick and the father of independent film; I could listen to him for hours)
#5. Woody Allen
(my only invitee still living; I would have SO MANY questions to ask!!!)

Now It’s YOUR Turn!!!

31-Day Movie Meme: by Peter Eramo

I see that all of my fellow film bloggers have been participating in the 31-Day Movie Meme, and it looked too fun NOT to participate, so I came up with my own responses to the “lightning-round” type questions being posed. Readers of this site might see some repeat answers, but if it’s a film favorite, I have to be consistent. I have no idea who started this particular Meme, but it’s been very entertaining reading everyone’s answers to the prompted questions thus far. I still have no idea what a “meme” is, but the ones I have taken part in have been quite enjoyable. Anyway, here are my own responses, for better or for worse:  

1. A Sequel That Shouldn’t Have Been Made:

Caddyshack 2 (was this truly necessary? A disastrous follow-up to a comedic classic.)  

2. A Movie More People Should See:

I think everyone should see the documentary, Young @ Heart. Absolutely uplifting and inspiring. You laugh one minute and cry the next.  

3. Favorite Oscar-Nominated Film from the Most Recent Ballot:

District 9 (For my money, the best film of 2009.)  

4. A Movie That Makes Me Laugh Every Time:

Arthur (Russell Brand will never come close to measuring up to the brilliance of Dudley Moore…and frankly, it is sad that he is even trying.)    

         

 

 

5. A Movie I Loathe:

Donnie Darko (a film for teenagers and college students who think that, by saying they love this film, it makes them intellectual and profound human beings. It’s junk people.)    

6. A Movie That Makes Me Cry Every Time:

The hospital scene in She’s Having A Baby, played to the sensational Kate Bush track, “This Woman’s Work.” Kevin Bacon is spectacular here and the beautifully edited montage of moments between husband and wife is gut-wrenching. Perhaps every husband’s nightmare, leaving him crippled and feeling helpless.
     

7. Least Favorite Movie by a Favorite Actor:

My favorite actor without question is Marlon Brando. Except for the hefty paycheck, I’m still not sure why he ever stepped near The Island of Dr. Moreau.    

8. Movie That Should Be Required High School Viewing:

As long as a proper lesson unit is created, with in-depth follow-up discussion, I think Edward Zwick’s Glory is a fine choice.    

 
     

9. Best Scene Ever:

The juxtaposing scenes in The Godfather, where Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) men are assassinating the heads of the five families as he stands in church, godfather to his nephew, renouncing Satan.    

10. A Movie I Never Expected to Like, but Ended Up Loving:

Fantastic Mr. Fox, the first Wes Anderson film I actually enjoyed.    

     

 

11. A Movie That Disappointed You:

I love Oliver Stone’s work, but was severely let down by W.    

12. Best Music Used in a Scene:

The way that Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” is incorporated into the bus scene in Cameron Crowe’s amazing Almost Famous is sheer brilliance — very moving and cathartic.   

13. Favorite Animated Movie:

There are so many great films to pick from, but I think Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant (1999) has to be my favorite.     

     

     

14. Favorite Black & White Film:

I’ll stick with earlier films here. A toss-up between The Bicycle Thief and Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight.    

15. Best Musical:

Alan Parker’s The Commitments is a sensational achievement with a phenomenal soundtrack.     

16. Favorite Guilty Pleasure Movie:

Serendipity (it’s friggin’ adorable…what can I tell ya?! Right Tara???)    

17. Favorite Series of Related Movies:

The Godfather Trilogy (what is the debate here?)    

18. Favorite Title Sequence:

I think the opening sequence of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers is brilliantly shot and cleverly edited. It surely sets you up for what you’re in for during the next two hours — a masterpiece of a film that is one of the decade’s very best films.    

19. Best Movie Cast:

Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan, Arkin, Jonathan Pryce, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin, and Kevin Spacey all shine in Glengarry Glen Ross. Everyone on top of their game and they speak the words of David Mamet like pure poetry.    

20. Favorite Screen Kiss:

You know all the anxiety and over-thinking that we go through before our first kiss with someone? Alvy Singer has come up with a working  solution to this problem.  Alvy and Annie are on their very first date. He is going to watch her sing at a small NYC club and later they’ll grab a bite to eat. Here is the classic exchange in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall:    

      

Alvy: Hey listen, gimme a kiss.
Annie: Really?
Alvy: Yeah, why not, because we’re just gonna go home later, right, and then there’s gonna be all that tension, we’ve never kissed before and I’ll never know when to make the right move or anything. So we’ll kiss now and get it over with, and then we’ll go eat. We’ll digest our food better.    

And they kiss. It’s nothing glorious; just a quick kiss on the lips…and relieves all the tension.    

21. Favorite Romantic Couple:

I am always touched by the purest form of love that is felt between Adrian (Talia Shire) and Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) — throughout the entire Rocky series (Adrian’s presence is overwhelming even in her absence in the final film).    

22. Favorite Final Line:

Phil Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams…    

Ray Kinsella: Hey Dad, you wanna have a catch?
Ray’s Father:  I’d like that. 

23. Best Action Sequence/Scene: 

“If I say it’s safe to surf this beach, Captain, it’s safe to surf this beach!”

The brilliant helicopter attack in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, Apocalypse Now.    

24. Film Quote I Use Most Often:  

In A Bronx Tale, Lorenzo Anello (Robert DeNiro) tells his young son: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” It’s always stuck with me.   

25. A Movie I Plan on Watching:  

I have so many in my rental queue….I’ll just go with the newly released Red Riding Trilogy…looks awesome!    

26. Freakishly Weird Movie Ending: 

Since everyone is going with Mulholland Drive, I will choose The Rapture (one of the very best film endings I have ever seen…I distinctly remember not moving a muscle in the theatre as the end credits simply rolled with no musical accompaniment)    

27. Best Villain:

I will stick with who I believe to be the geatest screen villain, Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List.    

28. Most Over-Hyped Movie:

Did I hear something about an upcoming Avengers movie? Does anyone really think this will live up to the hype? (I could have easily went with Inception here too.)    

29. A Movie Seen More Than Ten Times: Annie Hall (DUH!!!)

30. Saddest Character Death: 

Selma (Bjork) in Lars von Trier’s depressing and magnificent Dancer in the Dark. At the end, she is strapped to a board and carried to the gallows after being convicted of murder she did not intentionally commit. She is hooded, and screams in panic, “I can’t breathe!” as the noose is being drawn around her neck. When she finally accepts her death, and, while waiting for the floor to fall out from under her, she begins to smile and sing. Haunting and terribly moving.   

31. Movie That Made Me Stand Up and Cheer: Remember the Titans

“Films That Defined Us!” Blog Event

Marc — who writes for one of my favorite film blogs Go, See, Talk! — is hosting a Blog Event that will post on his site this Friday, August 13th and he was kind enough to invite me to participate. The event is called Films That Defined Us and film writers from all over are taking part to list those movies that we saw at a relatively young age and helped to define our movie tastes. These are movies that, to quote Marc, really “set the bar” for us and made a lasting impression in our lives.

I came up with my own personal list of 5 films (in no particular order here) that have surely been essential works of art for me as a movie lover and have certainly been proud staples of any movie collection I have ever had. For those who know me, I’m afraid none of these will come as much of a surprise to you. For my film blogging amigos, hopefully this will achieve Marc’s objective in letting us see what makes each of us tick. After much thought and deliberation, here are 5 Movies That Surely Have Defined Me:

#1. Annie Hall (dir. Woody Allen)

I didn’t get into Woody Allen until later on…around high school. Then I began to devour all of his prose with friends at a local diner, see all of his movies, read film analysis on him. In doing so, this film sadly became my life’s anthem, through no fault of my own. Whenever someone needs to “understand me” better, I tell them to just watch this classic dramedy and they always come back lamentably with, “Oh…now I get it.” This is the consummate Woody Allen film — the colossal turning point for him as a filmmaker. It features Diane Keaton who is heavenly in this movie; she created one of film’s most memorable characters here. It is a profound movie in terms of how it addresses relationships – it makes you laugh out loud one moment and feel sadness the next. I have seen this movie more times than I care to admit over the past 20 years and it never gets dull for me. As far as comedies go, this one stands the test of time and truly set the bar for all of the newer comedies being released this past decade — all films that pale in comparison to Woody when he was at his peak.

#2. The Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)

My family never really raised me on movies or got me into watching films, though I wish they had. But one film that I do remember watching with my parents when I was younger was Coppola’s seminal tour de force whenever it would play on TV. I come from an Italian-American family, so I think that certainly played a part in their excitement in watching this film and explaining it to me when I was too young to actually absorb it all. To this day, so many years later, the first two Godfather films are my two favorite films of all-time and I think my early memories of watching them with my parents play a small part in that. To me, this is a perfect film with unbelievable performances across the board. Knowing all of the background information on how Coppola set out to make this masterpiece and his many battles with Paramount make it all the more inspiring for me. As a result of watching this film at a young age, Marlon Brando quickly became my favorite actor (still is). Watching his towering performance here, I made sure to watch every one of his films as often as I could (even the many stinkers) and research as much as I could on the complex man. Throughout the trilogy, the character of Michael Corleone, I think, is one of the very best ever put on film and I can envision no one better to do it than Al Pacino. I just watched it a few weeks ago and it brought back a few memories for me from years ago — and I was still in awe with each passing scene.

#3. Rocky (dir. John G. Avildsen)

The original “Best Picture” winner, as well as the subsequent Rocky II and Rocky III (both directed by Sylvester Stallone). I was 5-years old when the first film came out and did not see the film in the theatres, but I do remember playing the old vinyl record that my parents bought and loving the entire soundtrack. Bill Conti’s score is truly one for the ages. I listened to it often back then, and a few years later was hooked on Rocky Balboa. To me, this is the quintessential underdog story — in more ways than just sports — though it is, for me, the very best of all the sports movies. He came from nowhere…and rose from the ghetto streets of Philly to become the heavyweight champion of the world! Again, I think the whole Italian thing comes into play here…fuggedaboutit! Isn’t it a law that every Italian guy has to love Rocky? Perhaps every Italian guy secretly wants to be Rocky. I know I did when I was a kid. I do recall seeing Rocky II a few years later and then my parents took me to see the third one in a drive-in movie theatre. Rocky Balboa was an inspirational figure to me then and still is today. He is a hero and positive role model that always does the right thing; he has a strict moral compass, he loves his woman, he has tremendous heart and fortitude — and he even ended the Cold war single-handedly in the dismal Rocky IV. Thankfully, he rebounded nicely in the last installment, but those first three films for me always get my heart pounding and my blood racing.

#4. A Clockwork Orange (dir. Stanley Kubrick)

I remember seeing this flick and the profound effect it had on me as a kid when I first watched it. In many ways, Kubrick’s ultra-violent futuristic film was the catalyst for me looking to re-define what my taste in movies was. I wanted to see more films like this one! I hadn’t seen many like it at all and looked into more works from this maverick filmmaker and others like him. I sought out films from other auteurs such as Malick, Forman, Cassavetes, Polanski, and Altman. I even remember having A Clockwork Orange T-shirt in my younger days. At the time, I didn’t consider myself much of a film buff, but I believe this film started that journey for me as I realized what film, as an art form, can do…the weighty impact it can make on a viewer. This film haunted me in the very best of ways and I loved Burgess’ overall message in the “rehabilitation” of the classic character, Alex DeLarge (wonderfully portrayed by Malcolm McDowell). When I think of movies that helped to sculpt my more refined palette in my latter teen years, this is the one that always comes to mind first.

#5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (dir. Steven Spielberg)

I was 10 years old when this film was released (when movies actually played for months at a time in the theatres) and remember coming home thinking I just watched the most awesome movie ever! I mean, really…what kid didn’t flip out over this movie?! To me, it seemed to have everything — amazing action sequences, terrific special effects, a love story, an intelligent and valiant hero, a malevolent villain, and humorous one-liners. I couldn’t wait to see it again. It was pure entertainment. For my money, it is still one of the very best blockbuster films ever made. Nowadays, with CGI and more high-tech special effects, everything seems possible and it takes away from the experience a bit. Of course, there are special effects in “Raiders”, but it’s not so unbelievable here where it removes you from the emotion of the scene. The hat, the whip, the classic gun scene, the snakes….it is all classic Spielberg in one of his finest efforts as a filmmaker. Sadly, the franchise has taken terrible blows in the years that followed (aliens — really??!!) with three sub-par sequels; none even come close to sniffing the boots of the original and I think its writer, Lawrence Kasdan, has a lot to do with that. This one always takes me back to 10 years old and the excitement I felt when I came home that day — the testament to a timeless movie.

10 Movies To Get Excited About for the 2nd Half of 2010!

So we are well past the halfway point of 2010, and I can say with all sincerity that I have sadly seen only one truly great movie so far. By leaps and bounds, Niels Arden Oplev’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo stands, in my opinion, as the best film of the year thus far (perhaps Catherine Breillat’s Bluebeard was great too, so, ok…two movies) . But we still have five months left and you know those “Oscar-type” films will start creeping into theatres come October, which is always something to look forward to. With the summer lackbuster season headed into its final stretch, I thought I’d highlight ten movies to look forward to for the second half of this year. They are in no particular order — just ten movies to get excited about.

#1. Conviction (dir. Tony Goldwyn)

I caught this trailer in the theatres a couple of weeks ago and it screamed Oscar buzz, especially for its two leading actors – Sam Rockwell and Hilary Swank. Rockwell (Choke, Snow Angels, Moon) may very well be his generation’s most underrated actor and it is high time this man starts getting his due. Here, Swank plays a high school dropout and single mother who spends two decades putting herself through law school in order to overturn her brother’s murder conviction. The rest of the cast ain’t so shabby either — Minnie Driver, Peter Gallagher, Juliette Lewis and the always strong Melissa Leo round out what looks to be one of the highlights of the latter part of the year.

#2. Secretariat (dir. Randall Wallace)

Walt Disney Pictures releases this film which tells the rousing story of Penny Chenery (Diane Lane), whose freak of a horse, Secretariat won the ever-elusive Triple Crown in 1973. Taking over for her ailing father, Chenery enters into the male-dominated world of horse racing and fights against all odds to produce one of the most successful champions of the 20th century. This marks the first film Wallace has helmed since 2002’s We Were Soldiers and looks to be a very heartwarming and inspiring film. John Malkovich, Scott Glenn and James Cromwell co-star in this true story. I was a tremendous fan of the wonderful Seabiscuit and though this is an altogether different tale, I remain hopeful that it is just as good.

#3. Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (dir. Oliver Stone)

I’m usually not one for sequels, but this one just looks too damned good. The trailer, played to the backdrop of the classic “Sympathy for the Devil,” had me right away and thankfully, Stone, one of America’s most powerful directors, is behind it all. And he could use a rebound after a few clunkers in recent years – fingers crossed, this one looks like the real deal, despite the presence of Shia LaBeouf.  The disgraced Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas, reprising his Oscar-winning performance) is out of prison and back on the stockmarket scene. Considering the state of our nation’s current economy woes, the film couldn’t have better timing. Jacob Moore (LaBeouf) is a young trader who teams up with Gekko to alert the financial world of its impending troubles — and also to seek out the murderer of his mentor. Eli Wallach, Josh Brolin, Carey Mulligan, Susan Sarandon — and yes, Charlie Sheen, round out the cast. Ah, greed….

#4. Megamind (dir. Tom McGrath)

This one, from Dreamworks Animation, sets up the ultra heavyweight match we’ve all been waiting for — Ferrell vs. Pitt, and looks like a lot of fun for moviegoers of all ages. Will Ferrell lends the voice for the title character, a super-evil villain who becomes quite bored after killing his arch enemy. Since there is no one left to fight, he creates a new rival in Titan (Jonah Hill). But things don’t really go Megamind’s way once Titan sets out to destroy the world instead! Brad Pitt is the voice of Metro Man and Tina Fey also provides some vocal work to what looks to be a very humorous satire on what we have come to expect of the superhero genre.

#5. Jack Goes Boating (dir. Philip Seymour Hoffman)

This strikes me as being a sleeper hit of the Fall season. Hoffman makes his directorial debut with this film, based on the Robert Glaudini play that Hoffman starred in and helped develop off-Broadway. John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega are also back, reprising their stage roles. Set in New York City, Hoffman plays Jack, a socially challenged hermit who spends the better part of a year preparing for a blind date. Based on the trailer, this looks like a wonderfully quirky, charming and romantic film and you can see that Hoffman is ideal for this eccentric role. This looks like the kind of movie I always embrace, and of all the films on this list, this may be the one I am most looking forward to.

#6. The Fighter (dir. David O. Russell)

Darren Aronofsky was slated to direct this one, but got caught up in his fantastic film, The Wrestler. Enter hothead director, David O. Russell (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees) who is looking to make a comeback. The film stars Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg (who was brilliant in “Huckabees“), Amy Adams, and Melissa Leo (that’s two on this list and I’m so excited she is getting a lot of work). The film focuses on the boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Wahlberg) and his rise to the world light welterweight title. His climb to the top is propelled by his half-brother Dicky (Bale), a former boxer turned trainer with a seedy history of crime and drugs. I’m a fan of sports flicks and Wahlberg has shown himself to be a very gifted actor. From the looks of it, there seems to be a Rocky-like feel to it, not just because it is set in the world of boxing, but in its heart and spirit.

#7. You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (dir. Woody Allen)

OK, if you’re a reader of the Magic Lantern Film Blog, you know that this is a pro-Woody site. Deal with it — I love Woody Allen, despite the fact that his recent films (Match Point, Cassandra’s Dream, Whatever Works) have been pretty good at best. But with the approach of each new Allen project, I remain ever-hopeful that this will be his “comeback film.” The movie had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and stars Anthony Hopkins (in the surrogate Woody character), Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas, Lucy Punch, and Josh Brolin. Set in London, the word is that this is a romantic farce where Hopkins plays an old crumudgeon who tries to cheat death by leaving his wife and falling for a much younger prostitute (Punch). Watts plays Hopkins’ daughter who is unhappily married (it’s a Woody film, remember?) and has a crush on her boss (Banderas). I’m just glad that I don’t have to sit and watch Nicole Kidman, who was originally slated to play the part played by Punch. I’m sure all of the themes that Allen loves to explore will be prominently displayed here — I’m just hoping for a funny and smart film that can hopefully rank among the better works of this legendary filmmaker.

#8. The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick)

Maverick director Terrence Malick brings this period piece to life, examining the lives of a family with three boys set in the 1950’s. It tells the tale of one boy in particular and his journey from childhood innocence to his disillusionment as an adult, struggling as a “lost soul in the modern world.” He sets out on a search to to find the true meaning of life. Knowing Malick’s work, this promises to be a visually stunning film with great characters and rich, lavish designs. After taking twenty years to come out with The Thin Red Line (1998), it’s great to see Malick coming out with this one only five years after his under-appreciated The New World. Details have been a bit hard to find on this one (no surprise), but the movie stars Sean Penn and Brad Pitt, so that’s a pretty good start and reason enough to be excited.

#9. Hereafter (dir. Clint Eastwood)

It’s Clint – what the hell more do you want?! This time, he takes on a supernatural element from a script written by Peter Morgan (The Queen) that focuses on three people from different parts of the world who are touched by death in very different ways. Like most Eastwood projects, there isn’t very much information being released on this thriller, but the man’s resume the past few years is simply indisputable. Matt Damon plays George, a soft-spoken factory worker who has the ability to talk to the dead, but chooses not to. His story, along with two others intersect as the characters search for answers about what lies in store for us after we are gone. Bryce Dallas Howard, Cecile De France, and Richard Kind co-star in what could be another very busy awards season for Mr. Eastwood.

#10. True Grit (dir. The Coen Brothers)

I know that movie purists and John Wayne enthusiasts are ‘gritting’ their teeth at the fact that this classic 1969 film has been remade. I’m not a fan of remakes at all and there are very few that have ever been any good, but three words give me tremendous hope that this will stand out among the others — the Coen Brothers. That’s really all I need to hear and with their ever-impressive body of work since 1984, I fully trust that they would never have set out to make this film if they didn’t think it was going to be terrific. In my opinion, they’ve made one bad film (Intolerable Cruelty) among an abundance of brilliant works that include Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, A Serious Man, Fargo and The Big Lebowski. Their other remake (The Ladykillers) wasn’t such a great movie at all, which gives me some pause, but just look at who is playing Marshal Cogburn, the role that won Wayne his “Best Actor” Oscar — the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges! That’s reason for excitement in itself. 14-year old Mattie Ross looks to hire the toughest marshal she can find to help her seek out the man who murdered her father and she ends up with Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn. I can’t wait to see Bridges in that eye-patch in this ever-slothful, no-good role. Comes out on Christmas Day — a real present for movie lovers, one and all!

The Top 10 Greatest Movies to Win the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar

A few weeks ago, I created a Top 10 List of what I think are the worst films to “win” the Academy Award for “Best Picture.” The terrific website ListVerse was kind enough to pick it up and what followed was a barrage of comments (over 400+ in less than 48 hours) that was great fun to read. Comments ranged from highly complimentary to others that were, well…not so nice and aimed at yours truly. No matter. That is what is such fun about these lists and what I was hoping for when I began my Magic Lantern Film Blog — a place for film lovers to speak passionately about the films that they love and hate, a place where people can have healthy debates with one another…quite simply, a place for movie geeks like me to communicate. A handful of those commenters suggested that rather than be so negative, that I create a Top 10 List of those “Best Picture” winners that I found to be the most deserving. I thought that was a fair point and that is what you see here – The Top 10 Greatest Movies to Win the “Best Picture” Oscar!

This list was a bit easier for me to compile, especially the Top 3. What I found to be most difficult was trying to squeeze in so many wonderful films that took home the award in just ten slots. Sadly, a few of them didn’t make the cut, though I wish there was more room. My criteria? Well, first it has to be a superb, timeless movie; a film that, looking back, you can still tell that it was the best in that respective year. A movie that if it didn’t win “Best Picture,” you’d say, “Really? That didn’t win?” Second, it had to be (in my opinion) the best of the films nominated in that year. If I thought another film was better, then it didn’t make the list (i.e. I think “JFK” is far superior to the victorious “Silence of the Lambs“). Finally, I looked at the competition each winning film faced and what the movie had to beat out (have you ever looked at all fantastic films battling it out in 1939?). When all was said and done, I came up with these 10 magnificent Oscar-winning films. I hope this brings just as much reaction and discussion as the prior list. 

10. The Best Years of Our Lives (dir. William Wyler, 1946)

Wyler made some truly unbelievable films (“Mrs. Miniver,” “The Heiress,” “Jezebel” and the Oscar-winning “Ben-Hur” which could have easily made this list), but for some reason, few cite this one as being one of his greatest. I first saw this film only three years ago and was completely blown away by it — and the war-film genre is not one of my favorites. Winner of 7 Academy Awards, this is the film that beat out “The Yearling” and the classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” and in my mind, deservedly so. The movie centers on three WW II veterans who come home to Smalltown, America from the war only to find that everything has drastically changed. Wyler and screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood aren’t concerned with showing us any scenes of the men in battle, but are wholly invested in showing us the crisis that each man faces upon his return. Sixty years later, the movie leaves a lasting impact on its audience and the cast is stellar. Frederic March won an Oscar for “Best Actor” here and Harold Russell, who plays Homer, a man who lost both hands during the war, won “Best Supporting Actor” — both great to watch. Teresa Wright and Myrna Loy also give heartfelt, riveting performances here. I was so impressed with how real everything seemed to feel and, like another film on this list, did such a beautiful and poetic job at showing the psyche of a post-war nation. All three stories blend so brilliantly together, I wish it had continued even longer than its 160+ minutes. For some reason, I am under the impression that many have not experienced this American classic. If you are one of those, you should put this in your queue right away.

9. Annie Hall (dir. Woody Allen, 1977)

You can count the number of comedic films to win “Best Picture” on two hands and this one is arguably the best of the lot (unless you want to debate “The Apartment,” which I could understand). I look at it like this – people bitch and complain that Stanley Kubrick, Charles Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, & Robert Altman never won an Oscar. Fine. The same would be said for Woody Allen if one of his movies never took home the golden statue. “Really? How could that be possible?! He never one after all those great movies?” Now of course if you’re not a Woody fan, you won’t like this selection. I had to find room for it. It is one of the all-time greatest comedies and stands as the seminal turning point in the filmmaker’s career. Diane Keaton created one of film’s greatest screen characters here (“Lah-di-dah”) and the chemistry between the two is a marvel and tremendous fun to watch. A classic love story filled with some of Woody’s greatest one-liners (“I don’t want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light”), there are also moments of great drama and depth. I know “Star Wars” nuts think that their film got robbed. I understand that it was a ground-breaking film and changed the way movies were made. When a comedy wins, most don’t find it deserving. I like “Star Wars” very much, but to me, it looks a bit dated now and perhaps that’s because special effects has grown by leaps and bounds. I just know “Annie Hall” (which I believe is his 2nd greatest movie) will be looked at as one of cinema’s greatest comedies decades from now. It also doesn’t sell out at the end and gives a realistic portrayal of a relationship gone sour. I can watch this anytime, anywhere…so it makes the list.

8. Terms of Endearment (dir. James L. Brooks, 1983)

I think James L. Brooks is one of the finest, most clever screenwriters we have and there are usually about 10 classic lines in each of his best works. Here, after years of writing successfully for television, he made his directorial debut and, after winning 5 Oscars, has become a modern-day classic. I know many poo-poo this movie, though I am not sure why. Perhaps because it is overly sentimental and falls under the genre of “tear-jerker,” but I think that’s just silly. It’s a beautifully woven story with rich and fascinating characters. I love that it always makes me cry when Emma (Debra Winger) has to say good-bye to her two sons or when her mother Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) is screaming for someone to help medicate her daughter. The chemistry between Jack Nicholson (as the vain ex-astronaut turned playboy, Garrett) and MacLaine is so strong and they are simply a delight to watch. Their first date is one of the great screen dates and Jack gets to do his thing throughout, which is enjoyable to watch. But even he goes through a maturation process that leaves the viewer quite moved. The core of this film however, rests in the mother-daughter relationship, which is funny, conflicting, heart-breaking…the stuff of real life. Brooks gets top supporting performances from a young Jeff Daniels (what a cad!), Danny DeVito, and John Lithgow. The movie strikes the ideal balance between comedy and drama and flows into one another so effortlessly. I find this to be such a charming, slice-of-life film. You’ve heard the old adage, “I laughed, I cried.” Each time I watch this movie, I find it to be the epitome of that very saying.

7. Schindler’s List (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1993)

Simply put, a glorious piece of filmmaking. Splendid cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, a stirring score by John Williams and Michael Kahn’s adept editing help create this engaging and important work of art. I have not read the Keneally book (though most of my students have), but Steven Zaillian’s screenplay brings this chilling and inspiring true story to life in such a skilled, crafted way. There are many films focused on the Holocaust, and though this may not be my favorite one, it is surely the one that most people point to as being the quintessential “Holocaust film.” Liam Neeson plays Oskar Schindler, who starts off as a vain and avaricious businessman who uses the Jews as cheap labor to start a factory in Poland during WW II. Slowly, he begins to see first-hand, the horrors endured by the Jews and begins a quest in trying to save as many lives as possible. In the end, he composes a list of over 1,100 Jewish people who he rescued from death. I know there is a lot of praise & glorification being thrown around throughout this list, but that is because these are 10 magnificent films that stand out among literally thousands. Here is one statement though that is in no way hyperbole — Ralph Fiennes, in bringing to life Amon Goeth, created (in my estimation) the most vile screen villain ever put on film. In Goeth, we witness the true evil a human being is capable of. He is terrifying, unpredictable and oh-so genuine. He wants so desperately to be admired and liked as Schindler is; the way he looks at himself in the mirror, the clumsy manner in which he tries to “pardon” a Jew that he so desperately wants to kill, the blunt manner in which he shoots another human being…Fiennes does it all with impeccable authenticity. The film didn’t have much competition that year, but I don’t think it really matters. No matter what movies were released that year, Spielberg’s movie (winner of 7 Oscars) was taking home the grand prize…it’s that remarkable an achievement.

6. The Deer Hunter (dir. Michael Cimino, 1978)

One of the great war films ever made, Cimino’s epic examines the lives of three close friends, all working-class factory workers in Pennsylvania, who decide to enlist in the Army during the Vietnam War. Before they go, Steven (John Savage) marries his pregnant girlfriend and the first act of the film shows us the wedding, which also serves as a farewell party for the bridegroom and his friends Michael (Robert DeNiro) and Nick (Christopher Walken). I know many people to find this part of the film to be a bit slow and lengthy, but I take the glass-half-full approach and say that Cimino and screenwriter Deric Washburn do an incredible job in developing their 3-dimensional characters. Plus, a lot of what is here is essential when you get further into the movie. The second act picks up and we are thrust into a prisoner-of-war camp where the three friends are detained in nightmarish conditions. The final act shows the horrific effects that war has on people and their surroundings. The film is graphic, daring, sincere and deeply affecting. Wonderful performances all around. A young Meryl Streep is so good here (a real shock, right?); sometimes she doesn’t even speak a line and we know exactly what she is thinking. This is also when DeNiro and Walken weren’t just cashing in checks and really immersed themselves in their craft — and both are spectacular here. A shell-shocked Walken in the hospital trying to answer what his name is — or those haunting Russian roulette scenes are images that I have yet to forget since I first watched this film. “The Deer Hunter” shows us a quaint small town in America, the merciless horrors of war and the daunting effects that it has on the people who served and those who are close to them. A 5-time Oscar winner (beating out “Midnight Express“), it remains one of the most powerful films ever made.

5. On the Waterfront (dir. Elia Kazan, 1954)

Winner of 8 Academy Awards, “On the Waterfront” is one of the great American film ever made. Having been nominated for “Best Actor” the previous three years, Marlon Brando finally won his first Oscar in his fourth consecutive year being nominated playing Terry Malloy, an ex-prizefighter turned longshoreman who witnesses a murder and struggles with himself to stand up to a corrupt union boss (a terrific Lee J. Cobb). Watching Brando’s transformation of this character is something to behold. Like something out of an Arthur Miller play, Budd Schulberg’s screenplay is authentic, powerful and enduring. On top of the flawless performance by Brando, Rod Steiger, Karl Malden and Eva Marie Saint turn in moving performances as well. The controversial film does not seem to have aged at all either, though the politics of the time may not be the same as today, especially in the aftermath of HUAC and Kazan’s highly publicized “naming of names. It has been said that Brando didn’t even want to work with Kazan after he named names of some of his close friends. Thank God he did do this. Close friends and collaborators, Miller and Kazan always wanted to do a film together covering the corruption on the docks – but never got to after HUAC. Miller did “The Crucible” and here, Kazan answers back with a statement of his own in this brilliant piece of filmmaking.

4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (dir. Milos Forman, 1975)

Milos Forman’s powerful, disturbing and, at times, humorous film is a brilliant adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel.  Jack Nicholson has been outstanding in so many roles, but this may be his very best work to date. Here, he plays the rebellious Randle P. McMurphy who is serving time at a state mental hospital and instantly tries to challenge all authority. In doing so, he tries to recruit the other patients to take on the dictatorial rule of Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) who is more despot than nurse. Every time he tries to have a little harmless fun (playing cards, watching the World Series), he is stopped by this oppressive woman. This film is a modern classic, featuring great supporting performances by Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Ted Markland, and Vincent Schiavelli. Brad Dourif is painful to watch as Billy Bibbit who is terrified of Nurse Ratched and the haunting image of his mother (who we never see). Fletcher is perfect in this role and creates one of cinema’s most despicable characters ever. Every note she hits is just right and her toe-to-toe scenes with Nicholson are akin to watching two heavyweights battle it out. McMurphy’s scenes with Chief Bromdom are also a treat to watch. The symbolism of McMurphy as a Christ-like figure, though more perceptible in the novel, are still quite evident here, albeit in more subtle fashion. What starts out as McMurphy trying to get out of work and prison by pretending to be insane, slowly morphs into something dark, perverse and terribly unsettling as he begins to win over the patients one by one. Forman manages to hit so many notes here, and just when things seem to be jubilant and hopeful, it all crashes down and your stomach is in knots. The film had pretty fierce competition for the “Best Picture” prize and was the first to win the 5 ‘major’ Oscar awards since 1934 and in viewing it, you can easily see why.

3. The Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

This could just as easily be #1 on this list as I find it the second best film ever made. Coppola’s masterpiece lost out to “Cabaret” in a number of categories, but thankfully, it took home the one Oscar that mattered. Marlon Brando, back at the top of his game. Exceptional performances by Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, James Caan, and Talia Shire. The coming out of Al Pacino, playing one of the most complex characters in movie history in Michael Corleone, the dutiful war-hero son turn immoral Don. I have seen this film more times than I care to mention and it never gets dull to me for a second. A young Coppola handles this film with such subtlety and such grace, showing audiences the inner workings of a mafia family before “The Sopranos” and others of its ilk romanticized it to the point of being cartoonish and false. The Corleone family, on the other hand, rings quite authentic. The transformation of Michael is mesmerizing to watch; Brando meeting with the heads of the five families after declaring that the war stops here; the infamous horse head under the sheets; Carlo finally paying for Sonny…I can go on and on with another thirty or forty moments and it won’t be enough. An iconic film score, a great screenplay adaptation and glorious cinematography by the legendary Gordon Willis help make this a film you simply can’t refuse.

2. Gone With the Wind (dir. Victor Fleming, 1939)

I watch this film and cannot believe that this was made 71 years ago. What a gorgeous piece of filmmaking this is – a grand achievement on such an epic scale. When you think of “classic” films, this must surely be one of them. And still, to this day, it remains the #1 box-office success when you adjust for inflation (besting “Star Wars,” “E.T.,” and “Titanic” among others). Here, we are given Vivien Leigh in one of film’s most iconic roles, doing a masterful job as Scarlett O’Hara. We witness her epic tale through one of the most turbulent periods in this nation’s history. She is truly one of cinema’s most enduring characters, as she goes through so many transformations in her life – and Leigh pulls it all off seamlessly. On top of her duties to the Tara plantation, we watch the love story between her and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), an immortal story in itself. The film gives us so many classic lines that we all know by heart and never ceases to feel new and timely. Many would probably put this as #1, and I couldn’t call them crazy. On top of being such a fantastic film, look at the competition it beat out in 1939! I don’t think there has been a stronger list of nominees since: “Stagecoach,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Dark Victory, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Of Mice and Men” are just a few and these are all unbelievably great movies. What do they say? “They don’t make ’em like they used to.” Sometimes I think they’re right.

1. The Godfather: Part II (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)

For my money, the finest American film ever made. How many sequels can you say are just-as-good if not better than the first? Not many at all. I believe this one actually outdoes the masterpiece released in 1972 (though by only a very slim margin). It also beat out stiff competition that year with terrific films such as “Chinatown,” “Lenny” and “The Conversation.” I love the backstory of young Vito Andolini coming to Ellis Island and his rise to becoming Don Corleone which includes the assassination of Don Fanucci. The Little Italy scenes showing us a mesmerizing Robert DeNiro (as the young Don) taking on all of the subtle nuances of Brando are a pleasure to watch. Meanwhile, we watch as the character of Michael (Al Pacino in perhaps his greatest performance) sinks deeper and deeper into the bowels of evil, while tightening the grip on his crime family in Las Vegas. Coppola had so much to lose here, but more than delivers and the performances again, are extraordinary. The late John Cazale gets more screen-time as Fredo (poor Fredo – “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart”), the legendary acting teacher Lee Strasberg makes his screen debut as Hyman Roth, and we are also given terrific supporting performances from Michael Gazzo and Bruno Kirby. A wonderful job of storytelling here and I catch something new each time I watch it. This was a no-brainer #1 for me because I haven’t seen a better film so far and thankfully, it took home 6 Oscars, including “Best Picture.”

P.S. — My apologies to “Midnight Cowboy,” “All About Eve,” “Braveheart” and “From Here to Eternity” — all remarkable 4-star films in my book and all deserving of winning the coveted Best Picture Oscar. As I said in my intro, I wish there was room for all of them. I just couldn’t omit the ten that you see above.

Peter Eramo’s Personal Pet Peeves

Now how’s that for alliteration…hmm???

I like to think that when it comes to movies, I’m a pretty open-minded kind of guy. I will go to see just about any movie (given my current mood) whether its genre is science fiction, horror, foreign, documentary, silly comedy – even certain musicals that look to be worth the time and money (though those are rare and hard to come by). But we all have our pet peeves when it comes to certain aspects of a movie that keep us from plunking down our $10 to see it (because so-and-so directed it or so-and-so was in it). For example, how many times have you heard the following exchange:

“Did you see [fill in the blank]?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Really?! Why not?”
“Oh…I just can’t stand watching him.”

And you know what? That person has every right to feel this way. It’s your $10 and you have the right to spend it any way you damn well like.

Now there are certain actors (Daniel Day-Lewis, Al Pacino, Jeff Bridges) who, no matter what the reviews and public reception have been, I will go out to the theatres, put down my money and see. We all have them. Same for directors. If David Lynch, the Coen Brothers, P.T. Anderson, Oliver Stone or Woody Allen (though he has been testing my patience for the past decade or so) make a movie, then guess what? I’m going out to see it!

So I am looking at the newspaper trying to find a movie to see – and I notice there is almost nothing out there! I look online for the onslaught of summer movies on the horizon and scheduled for release (as soon as this week) and still, I see nothing but slim pickings. My interest is not at all piqued. Now I’m just generalizing here, but all I see is a bunch of movies that look like they were made with only one idea in mind: to take your money. Sequels that don’t deserve one, films based on bad television shows, remakes of films that were perfectly fine in the first place…all coming out. In the spirit of this thinking, I came up with a concise list of my own personal pet peeves – certain aspects of a particular film that will usually (but not all of the time) keep me from seeing it and in turn, I decide to spend my $10 on something else…like a good book – or crack. Here are just a few of my pet peeves, in no particular order:

PET PEEVE #1: Any Film With Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay Listed as Director

These two have decided long ago that they pretty much have little or nothing to say to their viewers other than provide meaningless explosions, rail-thin plot lines and costly (though at times impressive) action sequences. “2012,” “Godzilla,” “The Island, “Armageddon” “Pearl Harbor“? I’ll just stick that $10 back in my pocket, thank you.

PET PEEVE #2: American Movies Based on Very Good Foreign Films

I recently read that David Fincher is slated to direct the American version of the brilliant 4-star “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and I nearly wept. Why does this film need a remake so soon? Because too many Americans are completely ignorant and refuse to engage in the dreaded S-word…subtitles. Now of course there are a handful of exceptions, but there are too many embarrassing, needless remakes of these fine films. Examples that support my luminous pet peeve are:

– “Swept Away” (Guy Ritchie’s slap in the face to the fantastic Italian film)
– “Diabolique” from the masterful 1955 French film, “Les Diaboliques
– “Death at a Funeral” (now in theatres just two years after the brilliantly funny original of the same name. Do yourself a favor and rent the British film. It is hilarious! Was this remake absolutely necessary? Shame on you, Neil LaBute.)
– “Brothers” based on the powerful Danish film “Brodre

And there are many, many more. I think “Oldboy” is in the works for a bastardized American version too. In fact, many well made Korean and Japanese films have been retooled for the Hollywood machine and ruined in the process. I don’t want to piss people off more than I have in a previous list of mine, but you can include “The Departed” on this list. That’s right…Deal with it…

PET PEEVE #3: The Dreaded “Hit List”

Not that I don’t enjoy a good action flick, but I do tend to avoid the ones with names like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Vin Diesel, Gerard Butler, Dolph Lundgren (yeah, he’s still around), Steven Seagal and Jason Statham attached to them. Call me a movie snob…but I can find much more stimulating, edifying ways of spending my 90 minutes. One side note…I thought “JCVD” was a decent film.

PET PEEVE #4: Video Games Should Stay on our Playstations and X-Boxes

Any movie where studio execs said, “Yeah, that’s a popular video game! Make that into a movie!!!” I generally ignore. I love my PlayStation 3 and enjoy playing all of my sports games, but has any of these ever made for a good feature length film?! Let me jog your memory for ya: “Resident Evil,” “Max Payne,” “Street Fighter,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “Doom,” and yes, the ever-brilliant “Super Mario Brothers.” Oh, Dennis Hopper….it was difficult, but all is forgiven. Just get well.

PET PEEVE #5: Nasty, Inept DNA

I don’t know what was in their water as children, but if a Gyllenhaal is attached to a project, I will oftentimes chuckle and then forget about it. I will admit that it can at times be fun to watch Jake Gyllenhaal struggle his way through a scene and try his little heart out, but more times than not, it’s usually just downright sad. Think of the car wreck that everyone on the road slows down to see…that’s the Gyllenhaal siblings! I will admit that Maggie Gyllenhaal has actually made some strong decisions (“Secretary,” “Happy Endings,” and “Adaptation“), but for me, it’s just ever-so-difficult to watch her. As for her brother, I think all hope is lost. He’s one box-office dud after another, and you know what? There’s a reason! Look at that joke of a film due out, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” — even the trailer looks awful.

Seth MacFarlane, creator of “The Family Guy” pretty much nailed it with the following brief scene. Give it a quick listen. It has the two siblings arguing with their father over who is “more off-putting.” Terrific….

I’m More Off-Putting! Gyllenhaal Scene

PET PEEVE #6: Shocking (Shitty) Sequels

Speaking of abysmal trailers, have you seen the one for the 4th installment of Shrek??? After the original, this franchise has gone steadily downhill. The third was even worse than the second and if this new frivolous trailer is any indication, “Shrek Forever After” will continue the predictable pattern. As a rule, I tend to avoid any sequel that has already shown a significant decline (“Spiderman 3” anyone?) or is so obviously made for purely monetary purposes. Though the originals may be very good (perhaps even the second as well), Hollywood execs will always “jump the shark” until it is quite clear that all possible profits have already been sapped and the audiences finally show that they’ve had enough by not going to the theatre. A fourth “Beverly Hills Cop“?! Tough times, Eddie? Let’s keep spewing out sophomoric Fockers films too. The only “Ocean” movie worth anything was the very amusing “Ocean’s 11” — please, stop, Mr. Soderbergh. I didn’t see the last Indiana Jones movie, and you know what? I sleep quite well. Most horror film franchises fall victim (like that pun) to this: “Saw,” “Halloween,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (uh, was that remake required?), “Friday the 13th,” “Scream,” etc. I understand that they are what they are — that they are not meant to be these enlightening, insightful films. I get that. But this is my pet peeve list and I choose to look elsewhere for my movie buck. “Sex and the City 2“? Were there really that many unanswered questions to the first one? At least Disney has the decency to release these “lesser” films on DVD and not take up valuable screen time.

PET PEEVE #7: Two Words — Michael Moore

I love documentary films. The problem is that, despite public opinion, Mr. Moore is not a documentary filmmaker. He editorializes and tries to manipulate your independent thinking with carefully calculated editing, insinuating music choices and of course, his own slanted commentary on a particular subject. This has nothing to do with whether or not I agree with his political views. The guy just doesn’t make documentaries. Period. If I want someone’s political opinion, I’ll read an op-ed piece. A good documentary explores a specific topic, shows all sides of said topic and lets the viewer come up with his/her own opinion. Most times, the filmmaker is never even seen or heard, but Moore loves putting his mug in front of the camera way too much. Trust me, if you want to see the work of real documentary filmmakers, you look to the fascinating work of Frederick Wiseman, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, and yes, Ken Burns. Moore loves the spotlight, you can clearly tell. I also love his abrupt about face on Ralph Nader — from vehemently supporting him to publically crucifying him. Classy move, big guy. You will never get my $10.

Movie Poll: What’s Your Favorite Woody Allen Film?


Peter Eramo Asks: What’s Your Favorite Woody Allen Film?
Manhattan
Take the Money and Run
Radio Days
Annie Hall
Hannah & Her Sisters
Sleeper
Broadway Danny Rose
Bullets Over Broadway
Crimes & Misdemeanors
Manhattan Murder Mystery
Purple Rose of Cairo
Love & Death
I Don’t Watch Woody’s Films
One Not Listed on This List


View Results

Create a MySpace Poll

The Top 10 Films of Woody Allen

He’s been directing films since 1969 (debuting with the hysterically funny “Take the Money & Run“) — about 40 in all. Some are modern-day classics, some very good, others not so great, and then there are those handful of films that were, well, just hard to stomach. I have remained a loyal, ardent fan of his short stories, plays and films for years. When there is a new Woody Allen film, I will most surely go out and pay my $10 to see it. Here is (for better or worse) my Top 10 Woody Allen Films of All-Time; a very difficult list to put together, I assure you. I desperately tried to squeak “Deconstructing Harry” or “Take the Money…” in there, but alas, ten spots goes pretty quickly. All ten films are outstanding in their own ways. Give it a read — and please make sure to let me know what you think…where you agree, where I was led astray and anything else you might like to add. Your comments are always welcome. Enjoy!

10. SWEET AND LOWDOWN (1999)

In my opinion, the last film of Woody’s that I can actually classify as “great.” A great mix of comedy and drama in this one with Sean Penn in the lead role as Emmet Ray, the world’s second greatest guitar player behind Django Reinhardt. Unlike most actors who take on the male lead when Woody takes a backseat, Penn does his own thing; not becoming the typical Woody-archetype (the perfect example being Kenneth Branagh basically mimicking Woody throughout the dreadful “Celebrity“) – and he is nothing less than sensational, giving one of his best performances in a career filled with so much strong work. In Emmet Ray, Penn creates a despicable, immature, conceited, narcissistic, rude human being who cares about nothing but his music – and Django Reinhardt. When he meets Hattie, a mute, simple gal, his life is turned upside down. As Hattie, Samantha Morton breaks your heart. She is simply adorable here and without saying one word through the entire film, earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination. She matches Penn in each scene they share merely with her body language and facial reactions. Two great actors here and it is so enjoyable (though at times painful because of how Ray treats her) to watch.

The music used throughout the film is sensational – one of Woody’s best compilations. I never get tired of the soundtrack. Another period piece, the look and feel (from art direction to costumes) is wholly authentic. A smart, insightful script by Allen. In the end, this comedic “biography” plays out like a tragedy. One of the definitions of the tragic hero is that he/she brings about his/her own downfall. Here, we watch as Emmet Ray does just that. And as miserable as he is, we still have compassion for him throughout – a testament to the work of Sean Penn here under Woody’s subtle direction. It is tough to make a top ten list of Woody’s films without trying to make a spot for this winning film.

9. INTERIORS (1978)

Following the phenomenal success that was “Annie Hall” came this film, Woody’s first entirely dramatic film, sans any humor really at all. In fact, during a dinner scene when the characters are all laughing at a joke, we never even get to hear the actual joke. Another note: this is the first film Allen directed in which he did not act in at all.

Of all his films, this is the one that most resembles that of Ingmar Bergman – in theme, story and how it is shot (by his longtime collaborator, Gordon Willis). The entire film takes on a very somber, pragmatic aura. Arthur (E.G. Marshall) decides to leave his overbearing wife (Geraldine Page). The three daughters must now come to terms with this as they also come to terms with their own lives and their own relationships with one another. The family is an artistic one: one daughter is an actress, the other a successful writer and the third, is trying desperately to find her artistic niche. Diane Keaton, Mary Beth Hurt and Kristin Griffith play the trio of sisters. Geraldine Page as Eve sparkles in this very demanding role of the matriarch of this dysfunctional family. She is the nucleus of this film. Maureen Stapleton is great comic relief (if you can call it that) and she brings great life and color to this otherwise bland, upper-class, eastern Long Island existence.

Though nominated for 5 Oscars, the film is not for everybody. In fact, I would only recommend this one to devout fans of Woody Allen. I surely wouldn’t cite this film for someone to watch if he/she was just starting to view his films. I look at this particular work and appreciate, admire and enjoy it. After churning out those “early, funny” movies, this was quite a daring move. And the performances here are bold and strong. I admit, I need to be in a certain mood to watch this one, but it does truly stand out as one of his finest, most mature efforts.

8. LOVE AND DEATH (1975)

Classic early Woody Allen comedy and one-liners here. Filmed mostly in Hungary, the film revolves around the ultimate coward, Boris Grushenko (Woody Allen) being forced to enlist to save his country from an invasion by Napoleon himself. Most improbably, Boris becomes a war hero and he may now finally make for an ideal partner for Sonja, the woman of his dreams (Diane Keaton), who always preferred his brother Ivan to him. The film is filled with timeless banter between Keaton and Allen here – such a pleasure to watch. When Sonja finally relents to Boris’s proposals, she convinces him to help her assassinate the French dictator.

In addition to some very clear references to Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” (the camera angles of various close-ups during the infamous “Wheat” scene) and Dostoyevsky’s works, Woody is his hilarious, incompetent, psycho-babble self. When the Countess tells him he is the greatest lover she has ever had, Boris deadpans, “Well, I practice a lot when I am alone.” Nothing cracks you up like a primo masturbation joke. The blithe music of Prokofiev works well here and the script harkens back to Allen’s earlier prose tackling such subjects as love, loyalty, fear of death, honor, and morality (“If it turns out that there IS a God, I don’t think that he’s evil. I think that the worst you can say about him is that basically he’s an underachiever”). Like his prose, Allen manages to face such profound themes by way of slapstick and comedy. A wonderful comedy and a pleasure to watch anytime.

7. THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (1985)

Woody has said on a number of occasions that this was his personal favorite of all his movies. If nothing else, it may certainly be the most original and compelling, simply for the premise alone: Set in New Jersey during the Great Depression, Cecilia (Mia Farrow) needs an escape. An escape from her tedious job as a waitress and from her abusive husband, Monk (a nasty Danny Aiello). She goes to the movies. Here she sees the handsome and enchanting Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) in the film “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” She goes again and again until one day…Tom just walks off the screen – and into Cecilia’s life. There is a problem though: Tom is not…you know, real! While Cecilia and Tom begin their own fascinating relationship, Hollywood execs are furious as they discover that Tom Baxters across the country are leaving their own movie screens. This is amazing stuff — what more can you ask for?!

Woody’s period pieces always feel quite authentic and this one is no exception. He has always written wonderful, 3-dimensional dialogue for women – again, this film does not disappoint. Jeff Daniels plays the 1930’s movie star with pizzazz, dignity and good humor. Things really get interesting when he begins to realize that this very real world is different than the imaginary one he just escaped from. There is also some very funny banter between the characters on screen waiting to see if Tom will return to them so they can get on with their own (movie within a) movie. An ingenious screenplay with a tremendous heart, this one goes right at #7, though I can fully understand why Woody himself places it at the apex of all his work.

6. BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984)

There are the films known as Woody’s old, ridiculous comedies (“Sleeper,” “Bananas,” “Everything You Always wanted to Know About Sex…” etc.). Then he began getting a bit more dramatic. And then he went back to full-out comedy with this delightful and uproarious black-and-white film. Now for many, you either love Woody’s humor or you don’t. Not much room in between. He certainly is an “acquired taste” and has his own style/brand of humor. But if you like his comedy and haven’t seen this one yet – do yourself a favor and go rent it…now!

Woody plays Danny Rose, a very unsuccessful talent agent with a heart of gold. He goes above and beyond for his bizarre list of clientele. His one big client is Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), who stays with Danny more out of loyalty than anything else. Canova hasn’t been big for quite some time, but now has a chance of making a tremendous comeback that would pay off for both. He asks Danny Rose to do him a huge favor…make sure his mistress Tina (Mia Farrow) is there to see him perform at a very important concert. Canova is married, so Danny and Tina must play off like they lovers. What happens from there is great comedy from Woody – original and warm…downright hilarious stuff. This makes the final scenes between Tina and Danny so effective…it really does hit you in the gut.

Woody’s comedic acting chops shine here. And Farrow, as the Italian broad is equal to the task. Woody has made a career out of playing the “loser” type who is down on his luck. Danny Rose is the epitome of this model, but we sympathize with this character 100%. The Thanksgiving Day dinner scene is a sad, tender one. His advice to his pathetic clients is classic Woody and him trying to get them work is even more hilarious. When trying to get a booking for an unimpressive client, Danny says, “My hand to God, she’s gonna be at Carnegie Hall. But you – I’ll let you have her now at the old price, OK? Which is anything you wanna give me. Anything at all.” Great stuff.

The film though belongs to the adventure that Tina and Danny go through. The helium balloon scene by itself is classic. In a new age of comedy films (either Judd Apatow, teen comedy flicks, Tyler Perry, et al), none of them measure up to this comedic classic…not to me at least. This stands as one of Woody’s best.

5. HUSBANDS AND WIVES (1992)

In the wake of Woody’s well-publicized scandal of a break-up with longtime companion Mia Farrow came this harsh, raw and wonderful film in 1992. Woody has admitted that he wanted to break the traditional rules of filmmaking here and he does so, using hand-held cameras, breaking up scenes in the middle of dialogue and not caring one way or another if the camera was on the front, side or back of the head of a particular character on screen. It does have the style and feel of a pseudo-documentary, complete with narration given by the film’s costume designer, Jeffrey Kurland.

The film opens with Sally and Jack (Judy Davis and Sydney Pollack) announcing to their best friends Gabe and Judy (Woody and Mia Farrow) that they are separating. Jack has taken a much younger lover who may be too much too handle for Jack – and yes, perhaps a little too dumb as well. Judy is way too highbrow for this sort of thing, but she does try to get back out in the dating world once again, even if her prime years are long behind her. Gabe and Judy have the seemingly perfect marriage at the film’s onset. But Allen here delves into and analyzes the long-term effects of being with the same person for years on end. And if you are aware of his works, you know that it won’t end well. Gabe is a college professor and he is soon tempted by a young, fawning, overly-sexed student (Juliette Lewis) that threatens to break up Gabe’s stable world.

I loved this film. I loved how Allen shot it, though many have told me that the constant camera movement made them somewhat nauseous. All of the actors are at the top of their games here. I am not a Mia Farrow fan at all and never thought she made much of an ingénue for Allen (unlike the ever-stronger Diane Keaton) throughout the course of their longtime collaboration, but here she does an admirable job. The wonderful filmmaker Sydney Pollack is very strong here and is quite natural in front of the camera, at odds with his wife and opening up to his close friend, Gabe. Juliette Lewis plays Rain with a very Lolita-like air and is a natural for the role (though she was not Allen’s initial choice). Liam Neeson has a great supporting role here too – he is low-key, polite, charming and stuck in the middle of the chaos that surrounds both Sally and Judy.

This film is unlike most in Allen’s canon of films and that is part of the reason I find it such a great watch. He doesn’t stray from familiar ground very often, so when he does, I am excited for the freshness of it all. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes, as in this instance, it certainly does.

4. HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986)

Woody has said that he was re-reading Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and was inspired to write this marvelous, enjoyable film. The film spans one full year, opening on Thanksgiving Day and closes at a dinner party on the very same day. I know Woody always manages to recruit an all-star cast, but of all his films, this one feels most like an ensemble film, with no one really taking the lead, but everyone playing an integral role in the story – and doing a damn fine job of it as well (including Michael Caine and Dianne Weist who each won a Supporting Actor Oscar for their respective roles here). Caine is amusing as the conflicted & unscrupulous Elliot, who cheats on his wife – with her sister Lee (Barabara Hershey) who he is absolutely crazy for and woos with the same gusto as a high school sophomore. Weist is out of control and steals every scene she is in – she is dangerous on the outside, but vulnerable and insecure beneath. Mia Farrow does a fine job as Hannah — the glue that holds the cast together. Max Von Sydow plays the reclusive Frederick and it is great to see him here working with Woody, who is an unabashed Ingmar Bergman fan, so that comes full circle. Von Sydow’s scene with his lover Lee is one of the films highlights. If any character is the outsider here, it is Woody himself. He plays Hannah’s (Mia Farrow) ex-husband, Mickey. They are on friendly terms. Mickey impulsively quits his job to find out what the meaning of life is after he realizes that he is not dying of a brain tumor – a theme that occurs repeatedly in the Allen oeuvre. Unlike most of Allen’s films, this one has a rather upbeat, optimistic ending that goes along with the Thanksgiving Day spirit that the film ends with. Allen explores the topics of religion/faith, love, family, and adultery (as always), but it doesn’t get very heavy as in some of his other films…this one seems more light, more airy – with great music and great one-liners (“And Nietzsche, with his theory of eternal recurrence. He said that the life we lived we’re gonna live over again the exact same way for eternity. Great. That means I’ll have to sit through the Ice Capades again.”) For someone who is not familiar with the work of Woody Allen or told me they weren’t crazy about him, this is the first film I would show him/her – it’s that much of a crowd pleaser.

3. MANHATTAN (1979)

Gorgeous to watch from the very beginning in its glorious black-and-white photography set to the music of George Gershwin. Woody is the consummate New York film director…always has been. The sights, sounds and beauty of New York City resonate in his films. This one may be the hallmark of all that. This was Woody’s first film shot using the widescreen anamorphic Panavision process and he disliked the work here so much that he offered to direct another picture for United Artists for free if they just shelved this one permanently. Thank God they didn’t listen to him, as this one ranks right up there with Woody’s best films. Made just two years after “Annie Hall,” we are again treated to the wonderful on-screen chemistry of Allen and Keaton. Isaac (Allen) is experiencing a mid-life crisis and has been dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), who is still in high school. He knows that the relationship can’t progress much further and he is embarrassed to take her out in the professional public. Perhaps she is the safe choice to roll around with after taking a beating from his ex-wife turned lesbian Jill (Meryl Streep) who is in the midst of writing a tell-all book about her marriage to the narcissistic Isaac (“I came here to strangle you!” Isaac barks at her). He meets Mary (Keaton) and is immediately smitten. Mary is dating Isaac’s best friend Yale (Michael Murphy). But Yale is married and is never going to leave his wife. Yale gives his Isaac permission to take his mistress out. Isaac does so and immediately falls head over heels in love with her, ditching the sweet-natured, lovable, and loyal Tracy. But – is this the right decision? Streep is terrific as the ex-wife – strong, quick-witted and bitter. Hemingway makes a perfect Tracey and we absolutely want to comfort her when Isaac gives her the bad news or when he patronizes her with her age throughout. Murphy is a great counterpart to Woody here and we can’t stand him for being such a bad friend. Diane Keaton sheds the Annie Hall aura and plays the cerebral, self-confident and urbane Mary. She does a marvelous job and as always, is a delight to watch. A classic Woody scene comes when he is sprawled out on the couch alone, speaking into his tape recorder and answering the question “Why is life worth living?” Uproariously funny, and at times, quite touching, this is a wonderful love letter to the city the filmmaker loves and a picture to relish in with each and every viewing.

2. ANNIE HALL (1977)

A staple in the annals of film history, “Annie Hall” is one of the great films in motion picture history. Period. Ironically, it is viewed as one of the greatest comedies ever made, but the film was indeed a major turning point for Allen as a filmmaker, as it instilled so much drama and serious themes that he had not yet delved into. Diane Keaton (as Annie Hall) created one of the silver screen’s most memorable and beloved characters ever here…she was without a doubt, the perfect yin to Woody’s yang. To this day, she remains one of my most favorite actresses simply because of her portrayal of Annie. What can I say? I love her! Here, she is flaky, quirky, lovable, sweet, innocent, strong and funny. The hat, the tie, that vest? Lah-di-Dah, Lah-di-Dah…She’s a dream. And I cannot get enough of Woody’s Alvy Singer. I love his reactions to things around him, his disgust at others, his paranoia, his egotism…and of course, his revulsion to any and all things on the West Coast. The chemistry between the two (dating back to “Sleeper” and “Love and Death”) is one of film’s greatest duos – not to be overlooked by other classic onscreen couples. And here, everything that happens (big and small) between the two is just so real – things every couple goes through (click on the poignant and comical “Spider in the Bathroom” scene below and you’ll understand exactly what I mean here). Again, some wonderful one-liners (“That’s ok…we can walk to the curb from here”), great characters, terrific performances (Colleen Dewhurst, a doting Carol Kane, a suicidal Christopher Walken, a pretentious Shelley Duvall)…winner of the Oscar for Best Picture of 1977, it deserves every bit of acclaim it has ever received. I can watch it anytime and have seen it more times than I care to admit. At its core, it is a typical New York love story: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl realize that they are “a dead shark” and break up. It doesn’t sound like much – but with the phenomenally woven script, the delicate direction and our two lead actors – it is one of cinema’s greatest films ever.

1. CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989)

To date, this is Woody Allen’s masterpiece. A perfect fusion of old-style Woody comedy (Woody’s plot line) and Bergman-esque calamity (Martin Landau’s story). Obviously inspired by the seminal themes of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” Woody would later re-visit these same themes in his latter films with much less of an impact. Here, it is done perfectly. Martin Landau is sensational as the married man (a highly respected opthalmologist) who gives in to temptation (Angelica Huston, who plays her character with such desperation, we can’t help but empathize with her) and then wants the easy out. Alan Alda is deliciously snooty and patronizing as Woody’s brother-in-law and Sam Waterston as the blind rabbi brings a “moral structure” to the narrative. There are some classic Woody one-liners here, some profound symbolism sprinkled throughout and it all is woven together so beautifully when Woody and Landau meet one another near the very end of the film.

Woody here plays his classic loser character making documentary films that no one wants to see – and his scenes with Joanna Gleason and Alda are filled with timeless dialogue. He agrees to make a documentary of Alda’s character in order to pay for the much smaller documentary on spirituality he is trying to make. In the process, he falls in love with the TV producer (Mia Farrow), but he’s already in a marriage with a wife who can’t stand him anymore — plus, Alda’s character wants her for himself! Woody has always grappled with the heavy themes of faith in God, truth, deception, love and betrayal, redemption and forgiveness — but he has never done so in such an intense and insightful manner than he does right here. Hysterical and haunting at the same time, “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is a modern-day classic film of the highest order. Woody truly outdid himself here.

THE BOTTOM FIVE (or “Ones To Stay Away From”)

1. Anything Else (2003)
2. Celebrity (1998)
3. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)
4. Scoop (2006)
5. Shadows and Fog (1991)

%d bloggers like this: