Monthly Archives: August 2009

Ones that Stuck: A Movie Meme

I was tagged in this meme by a couple of friends but instead of letting it get lost in the electronic crevices of Facebook, I thought I would post it here for more convenient access.  The instructions are:

Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen movies you’ve seen that will always stick with you. (First fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.)

Citing classics can be pretty boring and often doesn’t reveal much about one’s personality, so I’m going to try sticking to films from this decade that made an immediate impression on me and whihc I haven’t been able to get out of my head. In no particular order other than my stream of consciousness:

1. When I think of movies that stuck, the first movie I think of is Stuck, essentially a two-person drama between Mena Suvari and Stephen Rea that would be an implausibly gratuitous horror scenario were it not a true story.

2. The next is Birth which has held me under its spell from the first notes of Andre Desplat’s score over what in any other film would be the title sequence, but which in this film names no actors or crew apart from the film’s title. It’s not the kind of film I would typically expect to enjoy and it belongs at the top of this list, I think, precisely because it is difficult for me to articulate its particular staying power, or sticking power. The warm combination of golden browns and moss greens is certainly one of the reasons, which makes it a tragedy that it is not available on Blu-ray.

3. Mulholland Dr. is another film that cast a spell on me without me being able to understand fully why. After further watchings I think it is because of the climactic scene in Club Silencio which is the best demonstration of the willing suspension of disbelief as created by the optical illusion of cinema.

4. Tell No One, on the other hand, is very easy for me to explain why it has stuck with me: Matthieu Chedid’s improvisational guitar score which seems so perfect it could not be improved upon, coupled with Guillaume Canet’s choice of soundtrack cues which feel as if they were written for the film (Otis Reading’s For Your Precious Love, Jeff Buckley’s Lilac Wine, U2’s With or Without You, to name three).

5. If Mulholland Dr. explores the emotional power of cinema, Haneke’s Cache creates suspense through making the audience self-aware that every moviegoer is a hidden voyeur, if not legally, then psychologically. I’m hesitant to see this film a second time because my first experience is such a powerful memory — it truly stuck.

6. De Palma’s Obsession reinterprets Hitchcock’s magnum opus on obsession, Vertigo, via Dante’s autobiographical account of obsession, La Vita Nuova. Has a premise which sounds so good on paper ever delivered on its promise so effectively?

7. I [Heart] Huckabees is every bit the existential comedy it is advertised to be, but its genius is the light touch it consistently maintains despite a very wordy if hilarious script.

8. Scorsese’s After Hours is the dark side of existential comedy, following an office-drone Ulysses in his thwarted attempts to get home from the Kafkaeqsue nightmare of Soho. It is 24 years old but neglected enough to deserve mention.

9. It is bonafide classic, but as the negative image of Casablanca, After Hours, and Dark City, I feel like I’ll never be able to escape the gravitaional pull of Chinatown. Whereas those films are about characters trapped in existentially dark towns that don’t make sense, and their dream to escape to a sunlit fantasy that may or may not be accessible to them, Chinatown follows a reverse trajectory. The Marlowesque protagonist, who futilely attempts to remain in the sense-making sunlight of Los Angeles, is inevitably dragged, kicking and screaming, into the moral blackhole of Chinatown, where order distintegrates into chaos and this film noir finally becomes pitch black.

10. Discussion of revisionist noir based on the Marlowe template inevitably leads to The Big Lebowski, but that film has become so ripe thanks to Lebowskifests and other horse-beating activities that my obligitory Coens entry must go instead to No Country for Old Men. Once a decade (sometimes twice) the Academy gets one right, and this recognition should not reflect negatively on the Coens’ masterpiece. I distcintly remember how this film stuck in my craw after the first viewing while I was struggling to puzzle it out. I was sure there was more than meets the eye in this film ostensibly about a serial killer, and my first attempt at teasing out an Iraq War allegory just didn’t fit. To be a responsible exegete I figured I should return to the text, and the second showing provided the revelation I was hoping for: Anton Chigurh is a personification of Death, metamorphosed from the Grim Reaper of The Seventh Seal into an appropriately American metaphor from the 20th century, the Serial Killer.

11. Along with Tell No One, Sunshine is one of the best sonic experiences I have ever had in a theater. Accompanied by retina-searing images of the sun, whose role as the physical sustainer of life on Earth elevates it to a spiritual symbol. The Fountain may be a more clever film, but Danny Boyle depicts a journey to a star as an active rather than passive experience.

12. Children of Men is the best Nativity film because of its choice to follow the Joseph character rather than Mary, and its astonishing capacity, through the defamiliarization of human birth, to depict a newborn baby as a supernatural advent. The influence of its cinematography on action films, such as Terminator Salvation, is also a testament to its visual innovation, which is always in service to rather than a distraction from the story.

13. Not only does OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies include everything the film remake of Get Smart should have had, but it is much more than that film could have been. OSS 117 is not just a political satire on the patronizing imperial attitude of James Bond, but also a editorial satire on the Bond films qua films, while Jean Dujardin’s character is a physical satire on the narcissistic Esquire cool of late 50s/early 60s men’s fashion in general, and Sean Connery in particular.

14. In a year when critics swooned over Pan’s Labyrinth, the better depiction of a child’s method of coping with horror in her real life was Gilliam’s Tideland. Instead of constructing an external fantasy world, as Del Toro does, Gilliam utilizes his protagonist’s innocent point of view to neutralize the horrors that surround her. Images that belong to horror films become impotent as objects of fear and are made Jeliza-Rose’s playthings through the purity of her imagination.

15. A horror film of the more traditional variety is Into the Mirror, the Korean original which inspired the American version Mirrors. Unlike most evils, the one in this film cannot be combated physically, a crucial suspense factor that Aja throws out the window in his remake. While Aja’s version relies on jump-scares to frighten the audience, Sung-ho Kim uses the opposite technique to scare you early on with an uncut medium shot that lulls you into a false sense of security and then surprises you with the slowest of movements. The effect is that, for the rest of the film, every scene in which there is a visible mirror becomes a suspenseful sequence full of dread for the audience, if not the characters. Talk about sticking with you!