IMDB #244: Network

Hello, everybody. Do you feel the urge to yell at thunderstorms? Are you plagued by an irrational desire to spontaneously embark on long soliloquies about how mad you are (perhaps especially when you’re mad as hell?) ? Then Network may be the 1976 movie for you.

The Key Players:

Sidney Lumet, a multiple award winner and director of classic things that we will get to later like 12 Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon (but also the director of The Wiz). He works from a script by screenwriter and playwright Paddy Chayefsky.

William Holden, the star of Sunset Boulevard and Oscar-winning star of Stalag 17 acts as our audience surrogate, an old-timer network news producer that’s getting to old for this proverbial shiznit. He mostly frowns and then lectures people.

Peter Finch is the iconic news castor that flips out on air when told of his impending retirement. After his death while promoting the film of a heart attack in January 1977, he became the only Australian and dead guy to win an Academy Award the next month. He mostly freaks out and then lectures people.

Faye Dunaway, from Bonnie and Clyde and doubtlessly a bunch of other things, is the hotshot entertainment producer that wants to sleaze-ify the news for a bigger share. She mostly lectures people about how important ratings are.

Elsewhere, Robert Duvall angrily lectures people about profits or something, Beatrice Straight lectures Holden as his wife, and Ned Beatty drops in for a fiery guest lecture about economics (spoiler alert! I found this film a little preachy!).

The Story:

So there’s a fictional network called UBS (BS, get it?), and it has a floundering news program with a floundering old anchor named Howard Beale (Finch). It falls to longtime friend and producer Holden to tell a whacked out Finch that he’s being asked to resign in two weeks time.

Finch naturally goes on air and announces that he’s planning to shoot himself on the air the following Tuesday. This causes of course an uproar with the bigwigs, with Duvall’s proxy for the parent company among them. Finch is fired, but then appears to come to his senses and asks to make an apology on air, to go out with dignity. Instead he goes on a rant about how he’s run out of bullshit (oh my goodness he made a swear!), and the network flips out again but the public loves it.

Dunaway gets the bright idea to retool the entire program into a farcical variety news show with a mystic and a long segment of Finch ranting for a while to a zombie-like, salivating populace which adores him for ranting like a lunatic.

Holden, who was forced out when he let Finch start ranting in the first place, then brought back, then fired again when Duvall gets more power, meanwhile leaves his wife (Straight) to embark on a stilted and inexplicable affair with Dunaway.

Eventually Finch starts to rant in a near-populist bent that angers the overlords once again. And everyone has to choose between ratings and integrity, and nobody chooses the latter. Also there’s a bit with a faux Vietnamese Liberation Army and a mob heiress or something.

The Artisticness:

Visually this film is pretty straightforward- there’s some business with a big bank of TV monitors, but otherwise I can’t remember a single memorable shot.

But damn if you can’t tell Chayefsky’s a playwright- somebody shut the hell up already!

I’m not going to lie to you people- I’m pretty pretentious, most of the time, and I think on occasion about the fine line between intelligence and condescension- Lumet and Chayefsky more or less obliterate it with this story.

Actual lines from this Academy Award winning screenplay:

“I hurt. Don't you understand that? I hurt badly.”

“Howard Beale is processed instant God.”

“And that painful, decaying love is the only thing between you and the shrieking nothingness you live the rest of the day.”

Do you know how many of those reflect actual human speech? None of them! None! This is not a cardinal sin- it would be more than forgivable in a satire if any of it were, you know, at all funny. Let’s move on.

The theme, such as it is, is a pretty clear dissemination on the bastardization of journalistic integrity for gimmicky ratings stunts. From Edward Murrow to that show where strippers read the news. And by “dissemination” I mean brutal, constant bludgeoning over the head with the idea.


Yes it is- Ned Beatty, basically the head of all the head honchos, gets royally pissed at Finch when his ranting disrupts a buyout by a Middle Eastern company. So he hauls him into his office, and yells at him about the free market economy and the idea that there are no nations, just an interconnected series of corporations and dollars until Finch converts to the cause and stops preaching dissention on the air.

Naturally then his ratings start to go south, but Beatty won’t let him be taken off the air. So Duvall, Dunaway and company decide to have him assassinated. On air. Which he is, in a ridiculously artificial final scene to the film, and then because we haven’t had enough people explaining things to our feeble little minds, the narrator comes on and says “This was the story of Howard Beale: The first known instance of a man who was killed because of lousy ratings.”

Thanks, chotch. Didn’t catch that one on my own. Oh also Holden and Dunaway end their relationship with a whole lot of terrible television-centric clichés. Yawn.


Overall- Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Can you tell I didn’t enjoy this very much, at all? Lower, definitely lower. I’m not arguing that the acting here isn’t fine, and the writing accomplished if insufferable. But there’s clearly a fundamental disconnect with the entire emphasis for me.

Is it because the idea that the network news isn’t a paragon of virtue is nothing remotely shocking or risqué to me? That’s probably part of it, yeah. I’m one of the young degenerates that gets my news online or from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart because it’s just as good a source as any.

But characters with more than one dimension might have helped. Finch was a nonsensical zealot, but the kind of zealot that’s easily swayed. Holden was a bland righteous old fart, who didn’t even have an explanation for his attraction to Dunaway (other than the plot required it). Dunaway was pretty shrill, sorry.

I did like Duvall, who always plays mean pretty well. But mostly this hit a bunch of bum notes for me.

The Legacy:

But I’m in the vast minority on that one. This won four Oscars out of ten nominations- Screenplay, Finch, as well as Leading Actress for Dunaway, and an inexplicable Supporting Actress statue for Straight (who chewed scenery for a full 5 minutes and 40 seconds).

And it’s number 64 or so on the AFI list. Um, okay?

I’m just throwing this out there- I’m a bigger fan of the ten second part of the scene in the trunk in Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight where George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez randomly talk about and Clooney gets the line mostly wrong. I enjoyed that ten seconds more than this whole film.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Just out of spite, the Out Of Sight Trunk scene instead. I make the rules around here.

Leftover Thoughts:

  • I was supposed to laugh during this film, right? Because I didn’t. Holden tells the same joke twice that has everyone in hysterics, but it’s pretty lame the first time.
  • Is Peter Finch Albert Finney’s dad? Are they related? Did Sidney Lumet’s dad have a deep, craggy voice like those two, because Finney was just in Lumet’s Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (which also misfired for me).

IMDB #245: Arsenic And Old Lace

Hey, it’s nearly the weekend, and we’re taking a look back to 1944, a simpler time when we were caught up in some sort of European tea party with a short mustachioed gentleman, and apparently we had a national cinematic hunger for corpses and crazy little old ladies. Hence, Arsenic And Old Lace.

The Key Players:

Frank Capra directs, the master of both the heartstrings in time-revered feel good stories like It’s A Wonderful Life, and master of American pride and nationalism in his Why We Fight series of propagandatainment. But at least he put his money where his mouth was- he enlisted in the Signal Corps in 1941 during the filming of this movie, and received a delay of his order to report to finish editing it.

Cary Grant is of course, Cary Grant- the giant name above the bill and will probably come up again before I’m done with this. Formerly known as Cary Lockwood, born Archibald Leach (what was wrong with that name? I think it has a ring to it), he loses his usual debonair charm for an antic straight-man character in a family of psychopaths.

Priscilla Lane, our second billed star, is a former sister act singer turned movie star who’s most famous for this role, but starred opposite Ronald Reagan a couple times, and in Hitchcock’s Saboteur.

Peter Lorre, most recognizable from The Maltese Falcon, has a small role as an alcoholic German plastic surgeon alongside supporting turns from John Alexander, Raymond Massey, Jean Adair, and Josephine Hull.

The Story:

The beauty of this tale, set on Halloween, is that it sets you up to expect one type of screwball comedy, but then turn the tables and deliver another.

Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, a bachelor famous for books about the foolishness and impossibility of marriage that has just gotten married (to Lane). The happy couple stops off at the old family home of his two kindly aunts, who are the gentlest, charitable souls you could ever expect to meet, who take care of Brewster’s mentally ill cousin Teddy, who believes that he’s Teddy Roosevelt.

Got all that? Now, while Lane is elsewhere, Grant starts looking for the manuscript to his latest anti-marriage book, to get rid of before his new wife sees it. He looks under the window seat, but quickly turns to look elsewhere- there was just a corpse in it.

Wait, what? So begins a hilarious series of over-the-top Grant double takes as his aunts sweetly explain that they let in lonely old men with no family, and then put a merciful end to their suffering with elderberry wine laced with Arsenic, Stricnine, and “just a pinch of cyanide.” Grant tries to immediately ship Teddy off to “Happydale” sanitarium for safekeeping while putting off what to do about his homicidally misguided aunts.

Then Grant’s long lost brother shows up (Massey), a gangster who’s had just had his face operated on by drunken sidekick Peter Lorre, who made him look like Boris Karloff by mistake- in the play this was based on, this was a self-referential gag, since Karloff played the role himself. They have a body of their own to get rid of, incidentally, and multiple corpse related hijinks ensue.

The Artisticness:

You can really tell this used to be a play, as nearly every scene is set at the old house or just outside it, except for the fake-out beginning scene where paparazzi try to expose Grant for a pretend marriage hater.

The slapstick comic timing, and in particular the rhythm of the dialogue are excellent- I’m a sucker for that old screwball stuff. I can’t be more excited for His Girl Friday and the like- I even had much more patience for recent throwback efforts like the Coen brothers’ Intolerable Cruelty and George Clooney’s Leatherheads than most people.

Personally, all I knew of Capra was the Why We Fight series, and earnest pieces like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington- I never woulda pegged the guy for a farcical black comedy.

The music is the standard orchestral swells and crashes, and Lorre in particular is great with a leering, cringing delivery. Visually I can’t saw I saw that much panache, but there is so fun work with shadows on the wall and so forth, especially when the evil brother enters the picture.


It all ends tidily, as screwball comedies often do. The brother gets arrested, the aunts and cousin Roosevelt all get committed to the sanitarium, and Grant even finds out he was adopted into the family and didn’t inherit the murder gene (apparently even great great Brewster was prone to “scalping the Indians”).

Lane, who Grant ignores and outrages while he distractedly tries to deal with the situation, actually discovers the bodies in the basement just as the whole affair looks to be tidied up- What does Grant do? Just kisses her until she forgets about. Ah, the forties! Thirteen dead men, you say- here’s a smooch.

And although there’s a dead body that drunk the poisoned wine before the events of the film began, nobody actually dies of arsenic in this film. I was kind of disappointed- is that wrong?


Overall- Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Well, damn, given the pedigree, I’dve thought it would be higher than 245. Personally, I enjoyed this movie a lot, and haven’t laughed this much at any other film made before 1950. Definitely my second favorite of the countdown so far (behind Shaun Of The Dead).

The Legacy:

Well, I’d definitely heard of this film, but clearly had no idea what is was about- poisonous doilies? It doesn’t help that the poster (Grant throwing Lane over his shoulder) makes it look like a gender comedy, and not a black comedy set on Halloween.

But it’s definitely the most revered and remember of the list so far, even though Grant cited it as one of his least favorite performances. It was remade as a 1969 ABC Movie of the week starring Bob Crane, and again in 1971 as a German TV movie, so that’s something as well.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

The first scene in the film is actually a completely random and inexpicable riot between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees. Um, ok?

Elsewhere on YouTube- a clip reel set to “Bad Day” by R.E.M. (?), and some no-goodnick has actually posted the entire thing in pieces starting here, if the law doesn’t bother you.

Leftover Thoughts:

  • The Roosevelt gag runs pretty thin after a while, what with the bugle playing and the constant charging up imaginary San Juan Hills, but you have to admire the commitment to the bit, I guess.
  • Two changes from the play to the film: someone does drink the wine and die, but the studio wasn’t big on innocent people kicking it (you know, besides the thirteen already dead). Also, when (spoiler) Mortimer finds out he’s adopted, he yells “Elaine, did you hear! I’m a bastard!” in the play, which is softened to “I’m the son of a sea captain!” for the national audience. Really? (end spoiler)
  • “When you say ‘others,’ do you mean… others?”
Coming up on the top 250 Countdown:

Monday: Network

Wednesday: Roman Holiday

Friday: A Christmas Story

IMDB #246: Infernal Affairs (Mou gaan dou)

On our platters for Wednesday, the 2002 Hong Kong film that Martin Scorsese’s 2006 Best Picture Winner The Departed was based on, or more aptly, lifted wholesale on the way to the podium. It remains the only foreign film that’s won a Best Picture Oscar by proxy, insofar as that’s a distinction that anyone cares about.

The Key Players:

This was co-directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, and co-written by Mak and Felix Chong, who all had relative success in the Hong Kong market before breaking out with this film, which spawned a sequel and a prequel in addition to the remake.

Tony Leung, the most recognizable face (from my American perspective) plays the undercover cop posing as a thug. I remember him mainly for his angst ridden stoicism in War Kai-Wong movies like In The Mood For Love and 2046, and recently for his creepy stoicism in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution.

Andy Lau (no relation to Andrew Lau), most famous stateside for a role in House Of Flying Daggers, plays the bad guy posing as a cop.

Anthony Wong Chau-Sang and Eric Tsang also star as the lead cop and lead villain, respectively, while actresses Kelly Chen and Sammy Cheng round out the bill as Leung’s psychiatrist and Lau’s girlfriend.

I don’t know much about those four, but from what I’ve read the six of these stars represent the most famous movie stars in all of Hong Kong, all together in the same film- hence the record-breaking box office gross in its home country. It’s even more star studded than the Departed cast, with no offense meant to Vera Farmiga.

The Story:

So there’s a crime-lord (Tsang) who hatches the idea to enroll the youngest members of his gang in the police academy to have a mole on the inside- one of whom (Lau) quickly rises near the top of the chain.

About the same time, one of those police higher-ups (Wong Chau-Sang) has the idea to expel a promising recruit from the academy (Leung) on trumped up charges, but actually have him join the local drug trade as a police mole.

Ten years later all parties involved are walking a tightrope act of text messaging, morse code signals, covert meetings and tip-offs to keep one step ahead of each. Both sides realize they’ve got a leak, and rush to find it before the other side exposes theirs.

It’s a pretty tightly written movie, with some great moments- and I can’t stress enough how many of these moments are exactly the same in The Departed (even the thing with the writing on the envelope!). Infernal Affairs is a lot lighter on character development and has less of a visual flair for the dramatic, but the tension and clever symmetry of the story is not the invention of (Oscar winning Departed screenwriter) William Monaghan.

Amidst all this chicanery, Lau is trying to reconcile the life he leads with his role as a mob informant- he enjoys his work, and has just moved into an apartment with his girlfriend. Leung meanwhile, just wants his life of danger and suspicion to finally be over. Where will it all end?

The Artisticness:

One of my favorite elements of this film that wasn’t carried over to the American version is the habit of Eastern films to speak in proverbs and aphorisms. When both sides come face to face, in a pensive moment the police chief mentions a story: two men were waiting for kidney transplants, but only one kidney was available. So they each put a playing card in the other’s pocket, and whoever guesses their own card first, wins.

The villain smiles and says “You know, I can see your card.” The retort: “I can see yours as well.”

How awesome is that? This philosophical bent does get a little heavy handed with a bit about Lau’s girlfriend writing a book- it’s about a man with multiple personalities (get it?), but she doesn’t know “whether he’s good or bad.” Eh. Most of the script is to the point, however, and the quiet relationship of Leung and his court-ordered psychiatrist (he just goes to her office and sleeps for an hour, the only place he feels safe) is nicely understated.

There’s a particular visual look to this film as well that’s more memorable that the typical action movie, all gritty parking structures and sterile blue halogen for the two different worlds we visit. And an old-school score with lots of noir-horns and marching string overtures tops the cake.

The biggest artistic decision I disliked? The English title. The Chinese title of the film translates to “the non-stop path,” which is a reference to the lowest level of hell in Buddhism where those who have committed bad deeds go to be reborn. “Infernal Affairs”? Mostly just a horrible pun.

THE ENDING! SPOILERS! (This spoils The Departed as well)

The good guy gets shot in the head! After spending nearly the entire film apart, Lau and Leung confront one another on the rooftop, but another mole ends up killing Leung. It’s a gut-check moment, and gives the film a lot more weight and thematic resonance than a prototypical happy ending would.

This is the sort of decision I would I have disliked on the face of it a while ago, before it occurred to me that movie characters don’t live beyond the credits, anyway- who cares if they die at the end of a film, as long as it’s a great moment? Although how they made a sequel with this character dead, and a prequel when they hadn’t crossed paths for the preceding ten years is beyond me.

Scorsese and co. made plenty of changes to the ending in their version, which we’ll get into in a year or so, but kept this same moment more or less as is. I knew it was coming as soon as I saw an elevator, because I’d seen this already.


Overall- Should it be Higher, Lower?

I’m not sure- I know this is probably unfair, but seeing The Departed makes me realize how workmanlike and sparse this film is- they gloss over the initiation of both undercover agents into enemy territory, and don’t give us enough time with certain characters to really care when they get shot.

But you can’t go around holding people up to masters of cinema, and without Infernal Affairs, that other movie obviously wouldn’t exist. So I think it does deserve a place here, definitely for the originality and execution of its story.

The Legacy:

Well, clearly it’s an entire franchise over in Hong Kong, and the genesis point of an modern American classic. It also revitalized an entire country’s film industry, which by all accounts had become pretty stagnant and predicable.

It just goes to show that it’s all about story and originality, and building the proverbial better mousetrap- of course in this country we don’t really get that point until we remake the gorram thing.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

More Spoilers! Aaah, they're everywhere!

Apparently the Chinese Board of Censorship demanded an alternate ending be shot wherein Lau gets exposed as a traitor and arrested, immediately after the elevator standoff. The clip is below, although it has German subtitles- you still get the idea. Whatever- at least they don't pan to a shot of a rat...

End Additional Spoilers!

Leftover Thoughts:

  • There’s a random scene in the middle where Leung runs into an old flame from “six or seven” years ago, who has a daughter that she tells Leung is five, and then gives him the polite brush-off because he’s a thug and all. When he’s gone her daughter’s all like “but mommy I’m six already.” Oh snap. This is never really touched upon later, not in detail anyway.
  • Also the beginning of the film makes it pretty clear that Lau and Leung went to the same police academy (via some flashback actors that show up in the prequel a lot apparently)- there’s no chance they’d remember one another ten years later? It’s been ten years since I went to middle school and I remember some things pretty vividly. Actually, the trailer above refers to them as "friends," but I think that's just something that got lost in translation.
  • I guess I never touched on Scorsese’s decision to shoehorn both love interests into one character, which always struck me as kinda forced. Don’t put sitcom style coincidences into my gritty crime thrillers.
Coming up on the top 250 Countdown:

Friday: Arsenic And Old Lace

Monday: Network

Wednesday: Roman Holiday

IMDB #247: In Cold Blood

Next up- the 1967 adaptation of Truman Capote’s seminal non-fiction work In Cold Blood.

The Key Players:

Our director, Richard Brooks, an academy award winning screenwriter and director, is most famous for playing muse to Elizabeth Taylor in films like Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and The Last Time I Saw Paris. He also wrote the screenplays for some well received film noir work in Brute Force and Key Largo, which serves him well here.

Let’s get this joke out of the way- turns out Robert Blake is really convincing as a mentally unstable killer! But seriously, as the tortured Perry Smith, Blake shows real emotional depth and range- it’s just too bad he had to go and, y’know, allegedly kill his wife in 2002 (for which he was found not guilty). He’s most famous for a starring role in the tv series Baretta, and most famous to me for playing the completely creepy “Mystery Man” in David Lynch’s Lost Highway.

While many iterations of this story make Perry Smith a fascinating character, Scott Wilson’s performance is the only memorable one I’ve seen of the fast-talking Dick Hickock. He looked really familiar to me, but none of his other roles jump out, except perhaps as George Wilson in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Great Gatsby.

Elsewhere, John Forsythe has a few good scenes as the wearied Kansas Bureau of Investigation official Alvin Dewey.

Nobody plays Truman Capote, as it turns out- more on this later.

Truman Capote explains the genesis of the book. He says "idear" like my mom does.

The Story:

Tom Wolfe wrote the following about In Cold Blood the book:

"The book is neither a who-done-it nor a will-they-be-caught, since the answers to both questions are known from the outset ... Instead, the book's suspense is based largely on a totally new idea in detective stories: the promise of gory details, and the withholding of them until the end."

And the same is basically true of the film. Released a year and a bit after Capote’s “new journalism” had been serialized in the New Yorker and then collected in a book, it was capitalizing on a story everyone already knew I guess this is where the true-crime fans got their kicks before Law & Order was around to crib from the headlines.

Hickock, working on the claim of an old cellmate that farmer Herb Clutter kept $10,000 in an office safe, recruits fellow parolee Smith to drive 400 miles and leave “no witnesses” for the perfect crime.

Shots of their road-trip are interspersed with the Clutter family, who are literally the nicest family that ever niced in nice-town- including an aww-moment where Herb Clutter catches his son smoking but pretends not to notice. Also daughter Nancy has to go help Jolene learn to bake a cherry pie, and help Roxy with her trumpet solo! Whatever will she do? Ah, sweet, innocent small town life. If only they knew what was approaching.

Finally, the outlaws arrive outside the homestead late at night- and then the film immediately cuts to the unfortunate neighbors that find the bodies.

Then it’s a police procedural for a while, as Hickock and Smith briefly sojourn to Mexico before getting picked up for stealing a car in Vegas. Finally they coax a confession out of the two, and we flashback to learn that there was no safe, and Smith flipped out and killed all four of them.

Then we get a little bit of life on death row, and it’s curtains, literally and figuratively.

The Artisticness:

How have I not mentioned yet that this movie has a ludicrously over-the-top score by Quincy Jones? Well, it does, and it reaches more jazzy horn crescendo’s than a Twilight-Zone episode. I guess it’s supposed to build tension, but mostly I wanted to snap my fingers and wear a purple hat.

Beyond that, there are some nice character moments, particularly for our two-cold blooded killers. Smith is an artistic soul that is more or less bullied into action by Hickock, who’s a brash manipulator with little concern for friends, though he does constantly call Smith “honey” or “baby.”

The decision not to include Truman Capote himself is an interesting one- I feel like it really helps the film in a lot of ways to play it straight, but that might be because I’m a little bit fatigued by the recent Capote and Infamous twofer, and the little man is a great writer but kind of a grating personality after a while.

It definitely hurts the film, however, after the killers are caught to have to randomly shoehorn in a Capote-surrogate reporter who goes and talks to the inmates on death row, and inexplicably feels the need to relate their weekly routine to us through voiceover.

Perry Smith’s issues with his father recur over and over, even in the climactic scene when he goes crazy- and it can be a little obvious and tiring, but also leads to nice moments when he sees his father’s face in the place of others. Blake plays Smith as a haunted, sympathetic character- maybe a little bit too much so, as he sells the anxiety and frustrated dreams, but not the stone killer that famously says the line “I thought he was a very nice gentleman... I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat."

But Wilson and Blake sell the love-hate relationship between the two friends, who goad each other into the robbery when the moment of truth comes outside the car, and fully explore the book’s claim that the two of them wouldn’t have done it alone, but together influenced each other’s personalities.

And for all the arbitrary pacing of the final scenes in prison, awaiting execution, the last scene of the film is a tense and powerful one- a stiff drop, if you will.

Overall- Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I have to say that it was much better than I expected, especially thanks to Wilson and Blake. What the film loses from the book is an exploration of how much the deaths impacted the culture and life of such a small Kansas town- the victims themselves are more or less stock, and the townsfolk no more than fleeting images.

It was already a two hour and fourteen minute film, but I think you could probably sacrifice some of the gallows wheel-spinning at the end, especially if you’re going to bother to have us spend time with the family pre-robbery in the beginning.

Not one of my all time favorites, but I liked it a lot more than an episode of Law & Order: SVU.

The Legacy:

This is definitely not a film that supercedes the material it was based on- despite four Oscar nominations (including Quincy Jones- What?) the book is the far more memorable.

And of course the writing of the book is the subject of two other movies: Infamous takes a little more time to show Capote’s New York celebutante life, but Capote mostly takes place in Holcomb. They’re both admirable films, and they both have Perry Smiths that can match Blake for intensity and gravitas, but neither Dick Hickock could hold a candle to Scott Wilson, or portray the relationship of the two effectively (maybe since they only appear in separate prison cells in those films).

Also, a TV movie was made in 1996, which was another Capote-less version of the story with Anthony Edwards as Hickock, Eric Roberts as Smith, and Sam Neil and Agent Dewey. Was it any good? This cover might help.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Okay, watch the above trailer: what the heck is so great about using so many real locations, extras, and look-alikes from the real crime for the film. It didn't really add much to it for me, having never been to Holcomb Kansas forty nine years ago. It's really just sort of a grossly morbid attempt at verisimilitude.

Leftover thoughts:

  • Why aren't there any movies about Capote writing Breakfast At Tiffany's?
  • I did like the touch where Smith references The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (#49), another film about robbery gone wrong.
  • There's a truly freaky sequence in Mexico where Hickock brings a senorita back to the motel and Smith imagines his dad charging into the room and beating her. I looked away for a second and then I had no idea what was happening.
  • The other bummest note for me was the inclusion of the main prosecutor's aggrandizing and righteous closing statement at the trial- I was just thinking boy, this is annoyingly preachy and then he pulled out a Bible.
Coming up on the Countdown:

Wednesday: Infernal Affairs

Friday: Arsenic And Old Lace

Monday: Network

IMDB #248: Shaun Of The Dead

The third entry in my countdown of the best 250 films as voted on by the internet- Shaun Of The Dead, a tribute/spoof of zombie movies, and a modern classic.

The Key Players:

Director Edgar Wright, co-screenwriter and star Simon Pegg, and co-star Nick Frost go hand in hand. After 14 episodes of a well received British sit-com called Spaced, they took aim on the zombie movie as a cultural touchstone that was just dying to be mocked, but also loved like the little tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

They’ve since teamed up again for Hot Fuzz, an action/buddy cop parody that is just out of top 250 territory as it now stands. Pegg has branched out to star in crappier movies directed by people like David Schwimmer, while Wright has four upcoming non-spoof projects on the pipeline, including Ant Man. I’m excited.

The Story:

Basically, Pegg is Shaun, a loser whose girlfriend dumps him for having no ambition, lacks the respect of his mother and his step-dad, and is hamstrung by his fat slob of a best friend (Frost).

He mucks up his last chance to save his relationship, gets embarrassed at his crummy job, and takes forever to notice the undead rising from the grave and feasting on the living. From there, it’s a simple matter of saving the girl, becoming a hero, and going round the pub for a pint.

I guess the specifics of the plot aren’t terribly important, much like nobody particularly cares about who’s who in any zombie movie.

The Artisticness:

Shaun of the Dead makes me want to be a screenwriter, because not a single line of the film is wasted. Nearly every pre-zombie apocalypse line is repeated later on with a new significance, from a throwaway lines to fart jokes.

It’s like a corpse-filled echo chamber of awesomeness. It helps that the characters are drawn more narrowly and believably than in any zombie movie I’ve seen- although Shaun Of The Dead is essentially a smart romantic comedy and zombie movie spoof- people that like assonance call it a “zom rom com.” Adorable.

Anyway, the script and the attention to detail make this film instantly re-watchable. I suppose there are subtle thematic touches about taking responsibility, the current state of media saturated obliviousness that we all live in (the news reports about the crisis, and in particular the reel at the end are awesome).

It helps immensely that the special effects are as good as any straight horror movie, and the pedigree of the comedians involved are up to the writing. The supporting roles are stacked with ringers like Bill Nighy and Lucy Davis (from the British The Office).

But mostly this movie is just awesome, I’m sorry. You just have to see it to know why. It’s both one of my favorite genre send-ups, in a way, but it’s also my favorite zombie movie, regardless of intention. The beauty of the best sorts of parodies, and what we’ve forgotten here in America with your Friedberg and Seltzers, is that there’s a difference between derision and parody- Parody is loving, there’s a degree of respect to it.

Yes, the target of your satire can be ridiculous, but you have to show you can at least match it pound for pound, and put your money where your mouth is- not just lamely poke fun at something without even really being clever about it. That’s what Shaun Of The Dead does so well, is dive headlong into the world it’s created, so much so that by the end it’s still funny but you’re actually swept up in it.

The same is true of Hot Fuzz, though the gang’s second go around succeeds a bit less as a film, perhaps because the target is a little more broad.

Also, and maybe it’s because I’m just a hopeless escapist that’s easily caught up in things, this film makes me really want to be British- I want to say “right, right” “pub” and “wanker,” speak with a cool accent and end sentences with the preposition “in” (like they would say “It was that movie that had Hugh Grant in.” instead of “in it.”) It’s kind of like how whenever I see the first Pirates of the Carribbean (coming up this month, I think) I want to walk with a swagger and carry a sword.


As I said, the beauty of the film is that I’ve heard people audibly yell “No!” when Nick Frost’s character gets bitten near the end- we care about the crassest character in a film that ostensibly a farce to begin with.

My other favorite part of the end is the brief clip on the news: “Reports that the plague was caused by RAGE-infected monkeys turned out to be bullsh-” Which is a none-too-sly reference to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later- who needs faster, scarier zombies when the original thing is so much fun?


Overall- Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I don’t know- I would have expected this to be higher, but that’s me- I like comedy and I like slow moving zombies for their inherent goofiness, so I get what this film is all about. I suppose, if you forced me to admit it, that I also inherently identify with slackers that need monumental forces to spur them into action, but hey- zombies!

I definitely liked it more that the previous two entries so far, and probably a heck of a lot more than some of the films to come. For me, in determining something like the value of a film in relation to others, the factor most overlooked is how often you would re-watch something.

Some films you can only watch once a year- it can be because it’s a great film with difficult or depressing subject matter (like The Pianist), or maybe it’s just not that great to you, whether you think so or not. Do you really like A Clockwork Orange that much, even if you never watch it?

Shaun Of The Dead I could watch once, immediately watch again with commentary, and then watch again before the week is out. That definitely puts it up in the pantheon, even if it’s not Casablanca.

The Legacy:

This field might be difficult to fill out for a movie that came out in 2004. I would love to say that it's upped the bar for American and British comedy alike, and put a whole new spin on the idea of parody in general- but mostly it's still a bunch of shite out there, as the straight-up Anglos across the pond would say.

It's still led to a generally positive impact on the general pop culture landscape, however- without this we wouldn't have Hot Fuzz, and Spaced probably would have taken even longer than it did to come out on DVD in region one (as it is, it comes out July 22nd).

Plus a minor character is played by Dylan Moran, who I had no idea was sort of an awesome Irish Eddie Izzard type comedian. So there you go.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

This is actually an extra on the DVD (and I guess it sort of spoils the end), but come on! Coldplay has a sense of humor? What?

Leftover thoughts:

  • Edgar Wright, even in Spaced and especially in Hot Fuzz, is a huge fan of rapid edit transitions- it's like he's the happy version of Darren Arnofsky circa Requiem For A Dream (currently number 61 on the list (really, people?)).
  • Worst official tag-line for this film: It's just one of those days when you're feeling a little...dead.
  • I'm a Jonathan Coulton fan, so I'd be remiss not to link to this fanvid of SotD set to "Re: Your Brains." Zombies- are they ever not funny?
  • I have not actually seen Dawn Of The Dead, althought I am up on Night Of The Living Dead. Does this make me less of an American? Discuss.

IMDB #249: Harold And Maude

249 on the all time list is the grandmother of all modern indie-quirk, 1971’s Harold and Maude. Were my life and my eccentricities both affirmed? If I want to be me, should I then proceed forthwith with that being of myself? Only a kind soul by the name of Yusuf Islam has the answer. Read on to find out!

The Key Players:

Our director is Hal Ashby, an Oscar winning editor on In The Heat Of The Night, which we’ll get to later, and also the director of the brilliantly subtle and similarly wistful Being There. He died at the age of 59 in 1988 of cancer, unfortunately, and hasn’t been around to shepherd our Wes Andersons and various mumble-core auteurs through the current wide-eyed protagonist revolution.

Young Harold is Bud Cort, a bit player in MASH discovered by Robert Altman. He’s spun his cherubic face into a long career of bit parts, including roles in direct descendants of H&M like the bond stooge in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic, and the comatose body of God in Kevin Smith’s Dogma.

Maude is the irascible Ruth Gordon, a veteran of stage screen, and a playwright and author. Her next most memorable role is as the nosy neighbor in future entry Rosemary’s Baby.

There are of course other roles, most notably Vivian Pickles as Harold’s control-freak mother, but the third star in this film is the music of Cat Stevens- he composed two songs specifically for the film and lent six others, giving a unity and specific feel to the project much like The Graduate’s use of Simon and Garfunkel tunes.

The Story:

Harold is a nineteen year old nervous teen, obsessed with death and prone to staging elaborate fake suicide attempts, which hardly faze his mother, who looks to either ship him off to the army or marry him to a nice young girl from a computer dating service.

While indulging his other dark habit of attending funerals, he meets the nearly 80-year old Maude, who attends funerals not out of an obsession with death, but with the larger cycle of rebirth and life. She’s free, impulsive and impetuous (and given to living by Patton Oswalt’s theory that once you get old enough you can break all the laws you want)- everything Harold is not.

And basically they embark on a slow, tender courtship of stealing trees and picnicking at junkyards, while Harold’s mother and various authority figures try and get him to conform.

It’s a quiet little film that doesn’t even try that hard to make it all resonant. At a point, Harold notices a tattoo on Maude’s arm that indicates she’s a Holocaust survivor, but nobody says anything about it. In fact, I admired the film more for what the plot leaves out than what it included- no mention of Harold’s absent father is made, nor hardly any of Maude’s past.

The Artisticness:

Well, the framing and deliberate feel of this film struck as an odd balance between Kubrick and Hitchcock, but it was all brightly lit and presented, even when dealing with death. All of Harold’s suicide attempts are ingeniously framed to appear as if he had actually done it, which know he didn’t (but his unfortunate blind dates usually don’t).

And the prominent use of the Cat Stevens music makes many scenes more beautiful and poignant, as it seems more immediate that a top 40 soundtrack or a bland score. The musical and visual brightness of the film balances out the supposedly macabre nature of Harold’s character- though I assume all of the morbidity was much more extreme thirty seven years ago as a counterpoint to the free loving, positive vibe of the San Francisco area where H&M was shot.

The film’s poster even plays it up for yuks, with a picture of Harold with a noose and the slogan “His hang-ups are hilarious!” Proving that terrible movie-poster slogans have always existed and will for ever.

It’s hard not to read some of the eccentricity as forced, especially in Bud Cort’s over-played stare that capriciously pivots from honest confusion to sarcastic posturing depending on his company. But I guess that’s how nineteen year-olds can be sometimes, maybe especially during the acid revolution. Although there’s only one scene in the film where Harold and Maude share a hookah, though filled with what we don’t know.

But the idea of being hamstrung by inexperience and uncertainty is something I can get behind, being not too long ago nineteen myself. We’re just left with the hope that at eighty we’ll be as feisty and self-assured as Maude, no matter what’s happened along the way.


Harold eventually tells everyone he’s marrying Maude, and receives several lectures about propriety as a result. Determined, however, he prepares a special birthday dinner for Maude and plans to propose, only to find out she’s taken pills to commit suicide at the exact age of 80- she just knows it’s time to go, it seems.

Harold finally cracks his façade of cloying affability to yell at her and rush her to the hospital, but it’s too late. Then he drives his car out to the countryside and straight off a cliff, which lands in a crunch on the seashore.

Then the camera pans up to reveal it was only his final fake suicide, and he walks off into the country plucking the central Cat Steven’s ditty on the banjo Maude encouraged him to play. It’s a nice ending moment, and not a tiresome montage of how his life is different now- just when he had a real reason to be sad, he starts to learn to be happy. Aww.


Overall- Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I’d say I liked it a lot, even if I wouldn’t exactly watch it over and over. It’s both charming and somewhat forgettable in its slightness, but I wouldn’t want it to be too much of a message movie. Ashby’s Being There is a similar pastiche piece with a message that isn’t beat to death, and his restraint when dealing with large themes is admirable.

Mostly it’s a love story, and a memorable one at that. It certainly can stand miles above quite a few vanity projects about withdrawn young men having their lives opened up by free-willed chartreuses these days.

I’ll have to watch it again, but the uniqueness of the vision (in lieu of later imitations) and the particular way in which it interacts with the era is more than fine for number 249. There’s a particular moment in which Maude drives wildly off the road and narrowly misses hitting a couple of hitchhiking hippies, that probably means something important. Or maybe it was just funny, which is just as good. The best part of Harold And Maude is that it doesn't seem to care whether you think it's going for the former or the latter.

The Legacy:

This is really the crazy part here- how could I have seen every Wes Anderson movie without having seen this already? Clearly he’d have no career without Ashby, and he puts the same attention to framing, deadpan weirdness, and even Cat Stevens music into his films. And without Anderson, we don’t have your Noah Baunbachs, Miranda Julys, and other one-off oddballs that have created an entire mini-genre: The Voyage Of Whimsical Self-Discovery.

Not to mention that last week I watched Charlie Bartlett, a film that pays so much homage to Harold and Maude it probably risks a copyright violation: Anton Yelchin plays sort of a Harold that already has some Maude-instilled confidence, but he lives in a giant house with only a rich, vapid mother, plays “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out” on the piano exactly as Maude does, and even does little impressions of Harold’s quirks like lying backwards on a psychologist’s couch.

So clearly it has its fans (an entire cult, apparently), and it’s still a go-to joke when a buddy of mine dates an older woman. What can you do, I’m crass.

The Best Clip Of It On YouTube:

Slim pickings on there (mostly hippie jerks with their Cat Stevens covers), although this trailer pretty much nails the pace and deliberate oddity of the film. Look! A circus parade right next a funeral! Life! Ain't she a corker?

Leftover Thoughts:

  • I'd be remiss in not pointing out that Scott Tobias of the Onion Av Club just did another write up of this movie for their "Better Late Than Never" feature, and it's probably way better than mine. Is it selfish of me to not point this out until the end? Yes, but come on- he get paid and stuff.
  • So Cat Stevens converted to Islam, and he changed his name to "Yusuf Islam." Which is pretty much just "Joe Islam." That's the best name he could come up with?
  • Not too many quotable lines from this movie- not that work out of context, anyway. In fact, some of the dialogue is downright ridiculously earnest, especially in lieu of detached Wes Anderson movies where nobody says what they mean, but Ruth Gordon sells the philosophy, I think.
  • I've always wanted to learn how to ice sculpt.
  • Also, if you want to be free, I have it on pretty good authority that you should probably go ahead and do so. Until Friday, my peach cobblers.


In all fairness, a quick search of the internet reveals that I'm not the only one out there to think of the 250 countdown idea:

This guy has got through 29 so far, but he just writes one paragraph and then copies and pastes Wikipedia summaries or somesuch. Plus all of his in between posts are thinly veiled advertisements, or something. Also he started at the beginning- how boring is that?

Another person who started at the beginning and didn't get too far at all. Also she thinks that the AFI top 100 list should have more foreign movies on it...

One more who just did a paragraph and copied a summary, and then stopped at two. Nice.

Also, there's my antonym doing the bottom 100- which is not too bad, but what's with the bears? Though it apparently stalled at #77 back in April, anyway.

Does this mean I'm the de-facto cream of the crop for indulgent imdb-related list blogs? I think it does. But don't take my word for it- tune in tomorrow for Harold And Maude to find out.

IMDB #250: Out Of The Past

The first entry, the 250th greatest cinematic achievement of all time as voted on by members, is a 1947 number by the name of Out Of The Past, a tale of intrigue, bourbon, cigarettes and double crosses.

The Key Players:

Out Of The Past was directed by Jacques Torneau, a French-American more famous for classic creature movies with names like Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie. He directed some 60 films before his death in 1977, and I believe this will be his only appearance on the list.

Robert Mitchum is the leading man, a former private eye turned gas station owner. He is, by many accounts one of the definitive film noir leading men, and he certainly has the snappy delivery, stone face, and trench coat for the job. He floats through the movie with a glazed, unfazeable look to his eye that made me think he was just stoned the entire time- then I read that he and starlet Lila Leeds were indeed arrested for the possession of marijuana two years after this film was shot.

Jane Greer gets second billing as the femme fatale who comes back to haunt him, one of the most classic double crossing dames that you just can’t stay mad at, or so it seems. She and Mitchum both starred in multiple other noirs and non-noirs, including teaming up once again for The Big Steal in 1949, but this film has aged the best for both of them.

Kirk Douglas rounded out the posters as the main villain, a smiling mobster who’s relatively intimidating in a very forties kind of harmless way, in his second film credit.

The Story:

The plot is as convoluted as you’d expect it to be, but the details are unimportant enough to make is easy to follow. Really, it doesn’t help that it’s been long enough, and this genre has become such a touchstone that while I don’t know specifically what’s going to happen, it’s easy to know what to expect.

Mitchum is a small town gas station owner, well liked enough by the locals, but with a mysterious past. In fact, he’s literally referred to as “the mysterious Jeff Bailey” by his sweet blond girlfriend, in case we forgot the movie was called “Out Of The Past,” perhaps.

Anyway, a slick gangster character passes through town and recognizes him, which means the jig is up: Mitchum has to tell the sweet blond girl that not only is Bailey not his Christian name, he’s a former PI on the run from shady mobsters. He spins her a tale rife with voice-over about being hired by a smiling crime boss (Douglas) to track down a thieving girlfriend (Greer)...

whom he then of course fell for and ran off with.

But alas, it’s never meant to be for a private investigator and his quarry: Greer double crossed him and left him a body to bury, and he fled to a small corner of the country and hasn’t heard from dame, gangster, or assorted thugs until this day.

So he goes off to Douglas to face the music, only to find that the jerk just wants to hire him for another job to make things even- Greer came back and apologized (of course), and they just need him to go to San Francisco for them and clear up a little tax evasion mess. Or possibly get framed for murder. It’d be tiresome to describe all the twists and turns from there, but it all builds steadily to an ending I didn’t expect. Death, taxicabs, shadows, smoke, gunshots and car chases- what more do you need?

The Artisticness:

A lot of things these days are referred to as “noir-ish” or “neo-noir,” but that really just means they echo the gumshoe plot in some way- this movie is dark. The whole thing takes place at night, and the use of chiaroscuro, light/dark cinematography is quite striking in some places, if you step back and look for it.

It’s as heavy handed thematically as any story about crime from the first half of the century- Mitchum kisses the good blond girl in a sunlit field of grass, and bad girl Greer in shadowy corners. I’m sure there’s a message about the inability to escape your past life, and the need to face personal demons, but honestly I’d buy more of that if Mitchum was capable of expression beyond smugness- he’s like the grandfather of the Josh Hartnett stare. (To be fair, Hartnett did prove his stare was too vapid for even noir with The Black Dahlia).

The dialogue, much of it likely cribbed from the novel the film was based on, is relatively witty and sly- when Mitchum looks glum at a roulette table, Greer asks “Don’t you like to gamble?” “Not against a wheel.”

But it’s also prone to the sort of there it is noir-spiel that only seems deep, but really means nothing at all My two favorites: “I knew where I was and what I was doing” and “Let’s just leave it where it all is.”


The end of this film is the best and most memorable part, but I wouldn’t want to ruin it without the warning, even it is has been sixty-one years. Eventually Mitchum convinces Douglas to turn Greer in for murder, and pay him off for some incriminating evidence he’s managed to get a hold of. When he shows up to collect, Greer has shot Douglas, and is the only one left who could exonerate our hero, alas. He convinces her he’ll run away with her and start again but actually calls the police on both of them. Then they both die when she tries to ram through a police barricade (and barrage of bullets). Mitchum’s hometown sweetie sadly bewails that he chose the bad girl after all, and only we know the truth.

How messed up is that, right? It still takes the film a long 97 minutes (that’s it? It seemed to drag little more than that) to get to the payoff, but it does set the film up a little higher. Normally the gumshoe tells the femme fatale all about how she set the whole shebang up, then has her arrested and walks off, either brokenhearted but wiser, or with the good girl. Not this time.

And that’s probably why this film has aged as well as it has. It’s one thing to deliver a lukewarm theme about the inescapability of the past- it’s another to show it like that, especially back in the studio age, when people probably liked downer endings even less than they do now.


Overall- Should It Be Higher? Lower?:

Clearly, this being the first film on the list, I can’t particularly say I take issue with its ranking in one way or another. I found myself ambivalent until the very end, mostly because I’m so familiar with mechanics of the genre these days that it all comes across as wheel spinning. It’s not the movie’s fault so much as 60 years of perspective and dissemination.

The Legacy:

Here’s a fun chain of events: this film has been remade once “in spirit” as Città Violenta starring Charles Bronson, and once for real in 1984. That remake starred Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward (including Jane Greer as Ward’s mother!), and was titled Against All Odds. The theme song of the film? Yep, the Genesis song itself.

So when I saw the title Out Of The Past I was just like “huh, never heard of it,” when in fact it was the movie that spawned the remake that inspired the song that I have a Postal Service cover of on my ipod! Small world, huh?

But seriously, this is high in the film noir pantheon, with the iconic performances of the two leads, a great ending, and some nice cinematography to set it apart. It was apparently enough of a cultural touchstone that when Robert Mitchum hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live forty years later they brought Jane Greer in for a sketch spoofing the film. Wha? It's also the number 17 Film Noir of all time on IMDB, which means we get to revisit the genre sixteen more times before this is over.

It’s also a direct forerunner of David Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence- they both start with tough guys with shady pasts, working in a small town with pretty blond girlfriends/wives, trying to move on until a no-goodnick in a suit shows up and ruins the party. They even both have a quaint little diner where everybody knows our hero’s fake name. They diverge from there however, as History takes the question of facing your past in a much more thriller-genre, bloody-remains-of-your-nose sort of direction that just wasn’t open to filmmakers in the forties.

It’s the career zenith of both the leading man and lady, and arguably the director unless you’re a big fan of Night Of The Demon. In any case, it’s great start, and I can’t wait for the next 249. We’re off!

The Best Clip YouTube had of it:

In lieu of a clip of the film, would you believe that there's a montage of shots set to "Against All Odds"? Because there is! I guess the relevance is that it's like the bad girl saying to our hero that it's against all odds that he'd come back to her, what with the murder and frame up business. Kind of odd, but maybe her character is more sympathetic in the remake.

Leftover thoughts:

  • My favorite random part, though:Mitchum’s deaf helper kid at the gas station, ably played by Dickie Moore, jumps at the chance to help his boss when he runs afoul of the law and the crime-lord.There’s one scene where the deaf kid’s fishing while waiting to meet Mitchum, sees a thug about to shoot, up on a cliff, and reels back, snags him with the fishing line and pulls the man off the cliff and to his death as he fires an errant shot!And then he doesn’t even tell Mitchum, who assumes the man just stumbled and fell, and this is never brought up again.Classic.
  • Kirk Douglas was also great as the smarmy villain, who says things like “I’m on my way to Mexico City, honest- I have to see a man about a horse.” Banter, forties style! I can't wait until I get to things like His Girl Friday in a few weeks.
(editorial note: due to the whim of the capricious internet, this has already fallen to number #251 and been replaced by Once. But since I've written plenty about that film in another time and place, and I worked on this business for awhile, I'm leaving it as is. As I sad, I'm working from a list I copied on July 3rd, 2008- so while the order might be different than the present incarnation of the list, this will hopefully be the only one that's fallen off.)

The IMDB Top 250 Countdown Master List

#173 The Grapes Of Wrath
"I always sort of assumed it was about giant, lab-grown grapes that gain sentience and then turn on their masters."

#174 How To Train Your Dragon
"No dragon-related puns in this entire post. That's not how I roll."

#175 Casino
"...overrun with incessant voice-over, from both De Niro and Pesci, as if they're recording a DVD commentary."

#176 The Gold Rush
"Was He Sleeping With The Leading Lady This Time? -Of course he was! That's the Chaplin way."

#177 Grave Of The Fireflies
"Sakuma Drops: Starve To Death A Little Slower!"

#178 Les Diaboliques
"...until the big reveal you might wonder why they couldn't whittle it down to an hour for an episode of 'Hitchcock Presents.'"

#179 The Night Of The Hunter
"It opens with an oddly disembodied Lillian Gish reading Bible verses to some children's oddly disembodied heads, against a backdrop of stars. What?"

#180 The Princess Bride
"If there's a Framing Device Acceptability Scale, then Fairy Tale Told To A Child is on one end and Elderly Deathbed Flashback is on the other."

#181 The Incredibles
"It's a peculiar brand of faux-populism that Brad Bird promulgates....What's the lesson here?"

#182 Judgment At Nuremberg
"but I didn't know if he was speaking German or English!"

#183 The Killing
"Seriously, this movie's only 83 minutes! A Kubrick film? I thought I would need the entire afternoon."

#184 The Wild Bunch
"Opening shootout! Count the bullets at home!"

#185 Children of Men
"The thing about the future is, the people in it don't think of it that way."

#186 Kind Hearts and Coronets
"'The Scapegrace of the Century!' according to the trailer. What the heck is a 'scapegrace'?"

#187 The Exorcist
"Nail down your bedposts, put away the split-pea soup, and bone up on your Latin folks, because it's time to get straight-up horrified in here!"

#188 The Best Years Of Our Lives
"The moment when she tells her parents 'I'm going to break that marriage up!' I totally pumped my fist!"

#189 The Kid
"...this leads to perhaps the most emotional scene in silent comedy history."

#190 The Hustler
"...largely a quiet, soul-searching, staring-in-the-mirror-while-drinking-from-the-bottle type of film."

#191 Harvey
"From now on if anyone asks 'Is there anything I can do for you?' I'm going to smile and respond 'Well what did you have in mind?'"

#192 Dial M For Murder
"Do you think Alfred Hitchcock ever killed anyone? ...clearly he gave it a lot of thought."

#193 Rosemary's Baby
"What follows is a disturbingly psychadelic dream (OR IS IT?) in which she's undressed on a boat (maybe?) and then raped by a demonic creature."

#194 King Kong
"So yeah, a larger-than-normal primate, that's fine- didn't you say something about AN ISLAND COVERED IN PREHISTORIC DINOSAURS?"

#195 A Streetcar Named Desire
"Plus that one "Simpsons" episode is just so much better now!"

#196 Sleuth
"the howling of a man in a clown costume as a shot is's the kind of fun Edgar Allan Poe would be proud of."

#197 Shadow Of A Doubt
"Listen to the score as she runs to the library. Never has reading a newspaper been so dramatic!"

#198 Kill Bill Vol. 2
"On second thought, 'blood-soaked passion project' can refer to every single Quentin Tarantino film."

#199 Stalag 17
"I mean, sure, there's cross-dressing, near-ubiquitous cross-eyed mugging, and easy laughs, but sometimes people get shot."

#200 Brief Encounter
"But if you saw Unfaithful and thought to yourself 'this would be great without all the sex and violence,' then Brief Encounter might just be the film for you!"

#201 The African Queen
"Along the way: rapids, gunfire, larger rapids, a broken propeller shaft, a muddy river delta, (possibly real) leeches, and an awkward romance!"

#202 Duck Soup
"Blah blah, songs, mirror gag, street vendor, and so on. More quotes!"

#203 Rope
"It starts with a muffled shriek, and ends with a gun fired into the air. In between...cold cuts and champagne! Let's do this."

#204 Little Miss Sunshine
"This leads inexorably to what is without a doubt the Worst Scene of the Countdown so far..."

#205 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
"Why are they randomly flying around like that? Is this ever going to be addressed?"

#206 Bringing Up Baby
"...googling informs me that this is not a real thing, since we don't have clavicles, or collar bones, in between our ribs ("intercostal") and neither did brontosauri..."

#207 The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
"Benajmin poignantly sees a hummingbird at sea, even though he's somewhere in Europe and hummingbirds are native to the Americas." (note: I full-on parodied this one).

#208 The Lost Weekend
"Psychadelic fake bat freakout!"

#209 Letters From Iwo Jima
"My question is, when the hell does war ever get fun?"

#210 Ed Wood
" him, each take was perfect, because he was living the dream, man!"

#211 The Conversation
"Just imagine all the various wiretaps, microchips, satellites, and other indicators of the coming robot war that could be monitoring your every word these days!"

#212 The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
"This is the type of (true) story that leaves me with the impulse to hug my mom, kiss my girlfriend, high five strangers, write novels, hit home runs, and traverse countries."

#213 Changeling
"...the message in something this extremely backward and wrong just boils down to "What the f*ck!" the more you think about it."

#214 Bonnie and Clyde
"Long sequences of gun-fire end abruptly with Flatt and Scruggs' jaunty banjo tune 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown.'"

#215 Good Will Hunting
"Can a young man find his way in the world, even if all he has are a genius intellect, loyal friends, an impassioned mentor, a concerned therapist, and the love of a beautiful woman?"

#216 All Quiet On The Western Front
"Then the nightmare begins."

#217 Crash
"Crash: The Most Important Movie About Race Relations Ever, Unless You’re Asian, Because Then You’re Probably Too Busy Human Trafficking To Care- A Scene By Scene Recap"

#218 The Day The Earth Stood Still
"Oh no! My milkshake will not blend! The horror!"

#219 Sweet Smell Of Success
"I kept expecting events to naturally escalate and result in an accidental death of some sort."

#220 Frankenstein
"He just grabs the criminal brain and figures it’ll be no problem."

#221 Magnolia
"Plus, and I can’t stress this enough, a metric ton of frogs."

#222 Spartacus
" If you have three hours and sixteen minutes to spare, grab a copy and follow along at home!"

#223 His Girl Friday
"Don’t divorce Cary Grant, because he will always trick you into remarrying him."

#224 Big Fish
"That’s how I’d wanna go, too."

#225 In The Heat Of The Night
"...and keep in mind this is when Will Smith was negative one year old."

#226 The Philadelphia Story
"That’s just how they talked back then, I suppose."

#227 Manhattan
"...and I suddenly felt for the guy! What?"

#228 Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
"Because she’s afraid of living without cheekily modernist self-deception, get it?"

#229 Mystic River
"Considering moving east? If so, Dennis Lehane would like you to keep in mind that Boston is where happiness goes to die."

#230 Rocky
"Do you believe that America is the land of opportunity? Because Apollo Creed does."

#231 Young Frankenstein
"Wait, Gene Hackman is in this film? I had no idea."

#232 Let The Right One In
"Happily ever after?"

#233 Howl's Moving Castle
"It’s like Miyazaki thinks war never solves anything, or something. Huh."

#234 Safety Last!
"He promptly walks through roofing tar on his way downstairs."

#235 Casino Royale
"And why is Bond naked and tied to a chair? Mystery and excitement!"

#236 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
"Mostly there are gunshots and John Wayne having staring contests."

#237 Planet Of The Apes
"Man, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve said 'it’s a heck of a lot better than the Mark Wahlberg version'..."

#238 Pirates Of The Carribean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
"Let’s settle this once and for all: It’s pronounced ca-RIB-bean, not carri-BE-an."

#239 In Bruges
"But then, things happen, and it’s crazy awesome."

#240 La Dolce Vita
"That’s really it, and it is in no way as exciting as it sounds."

#241 The Searchers
"And of course he stops himself, but for a moment there you're like 'NO WAY!'"

#242 Once
" If that high note doesn't move you, your heart is made of stone and you probably hate things like puppies and sunshine."

#243 Roman Holiday
"But wait- what’s that in the air? Is it love? Is it pizza? Nope, probably love."

#244 Network
"Do you know how many of those lines reflect actual human speech? None of them!"

#245 Arsenic And Old Lace
"Ah, the forties! Thirteen dead men, you say? Have a kiss."

#246 Infernal Affairs
"I knew it was coming as soon as I saw an elevator..."

#247 In Cold Blood
"Let’s get this joke out of the way- turns out Robert Blake is really convincing as a mentally unstable killer!"

#248 Shaun Of The Dead
"It’s like a corpse-filled echo chamber of awesomeness."

#249 Harold And Maude
"If I want to be me, should I then proceed forthwith with that being of myself?"

#250 Out Of The Past
"Death, taxicabs, shadows, smoke, gunshots and car chases- what more do you need?"

How It Works: A lot of people ask me how I get the order if the list changes all the damn time. What I do is copy the list, delete all the ones I've already done, move everything up and do whatever's in that spot. This often means I'm working a little higher than the actual top 250 ranking (For Example I just posted Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at 205 despite its present rank at #224. This means 19 films I've already done moved higher than 205, so I had to delete them and condense). As I get higher, the differences should be less extreme.

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