Thursday, July 06, 2006

Whisky Prajer's Fifteen Favourite Films

"It's never the same film twice, maaaan!"
Thanks to a throw-away comment I made regarding Big Night, I set myself up to publishing another list. And with Darko's assurance that I'm a shoo-in for the Associated Society of Schmucks, I do believe I'm up to the challenge of enumerating (and elucidating upon) my fifteen favourite films.

My only criteria for these fifteen is their watchability factor -- in other words, these will be movies I don't hesitate to turn on and watch yet again. Consequently, there aren't likely to be too many downers in the bunch (i.e., no Schindler's List -- which I don't think is a Great Movie, either). Forewarned is forearmed: I'll be getting the obvious one (Star Wars) out of the way first, so if you don't feel like dropping by for a visit tomorrow, I'll understand.

I'll admit right now that I'm not 100% confident of the list's inclusions. Tastes do change over time, and movies I once thought I'd never tire of have in fact worn out their welcome. Apocalypse: Now is one such, thanks in no small part to my peculiar history with the film. My first exposure to it was on our family's b&w TV, propped on (what else?) a TV tray in a corner of our kitchen. I can't remember which of the networks broadcast the film on a Sunday night, but my parents made arrangements to keep my younger brother and sister out of the room for the full four hours while I watched the movie (and commercials).

I was decidedly underwhelmed when I finally shut off the set and went to bed, but over the next few years I did give the movie a couple of spins on a friend's VCR and colour TV, and it gradually accrued some of the gravitas the critics had accorded it. In the late 80s, Coppola re-released the film to theatres, and I went with some friends to the newest, largest cinema in Winnipeg to see this masterpiece.

The lights dimmed, The Doors began their ominous, mystical strumming, and the helicopters did their slow-mo swooshing. My heart beat faster. Finally -- the movie as it was meant to be experienced! The napalm flared, and Morrison's majestic baritone rose and sounded ... well, it didn't sound quite so majestic. It sounded a little high. And a little ... fast. Ten minutes later, my group reached consensus: the projector speeds were off. This was Apocalypse: Now as rendered by Alvin & The Chipmunks.

A dispiriting experience, but Coppola got into the habit of re-releasing this film every 10 years, and finally, in a Toronto theatre, I saw the film the way it was meant to be seen. This time there were no screw-ups, and the film was indeed a powerful experience -- powerful enough for me to agree to a "midnight matinee" just two years later.

This time my group of friends was all-male. At 11:45 we left the pub and staggered to the theatre in question, joining a short queue that was also all-male -- with one beautiful, blonde and visibly nervous exception. The fella next to her kept his hand on the small of her back and made all sorts of cooing and soothing noises -- "I'm serious: this is the best movie. Ever." -- but her shoulders were hiked up to her ears and her arms were folded tightly across her chest. Any fool could see she knew exactly what she'd been rooked into -- a Dick Flick -- and those of us who followed the doomed couple down the escalator hiked a thumb in their direction and sniggered.

Three pints of beer just before the stroke of midnight is not the best preparation to undertake for a three-hour movie. I was snoring in minutes, only to awaken during the feverish shrieking of The Ride of the Valkyries. It was just as well: my bladder could bear no more, and I executed a guffaw-inducing stumble-sprint as I desperately negotiated the wickedly steep aisle for the washroom. Once relieved, I returned to my seat and dozed off for the remainder of the movie. Then all the lights flashed on, and the lone usher walked up and down the aisle, clapping his hands and shooing us out. The blonde was nowhere to be seen.

In a reasonable world, that would have been my final exposure to Apocalypse: Now. This being anything but a reasonable world, Coppola went and released Apocalypse: Now - Redux. I was originally dubious about its merits and figured I'd just take a pass. But then The Globe & Mail gave three sheets of paper to novelist Michael Ondaatje's unceasing praise for this "director's cut". Another ten dollars left my pocket, another three-plus hours ticked off my life. And it became official: I had watched Apocalypse: Now for the last time.
But not so these next 15 -- stay tuned to glory in my taste, or to despair in the lack thereof!

Film Fave #15


DarkoV said...

That's like a 50% premium on the Top Ten list; Ebert would be tski-tsking you for the inflation. You've got your "Top Ten" with WP category happening over on the right. Fifteen! That's Ten with a Fluff Five category is next?
Just jabbin'.
I think any number is confining and , yeah, yeah, I know that confinement produces the best of the best..but 15 movies??? That would be a toughie for me. Geez, Jarmusch's and Coen Bros.' stuff would almost take up half of that right from the get-go. Throw in Orson Welles' output and Huston and Truffault and...

WP, this should be interesting. With your first pick, Star Wars, we're already going to seperate theatres. There was another movie that came out that summer that I've watched many times and on e that still brings me joy and happiness and I'm old enough to not care about public opinion to say that "Animal House" is a superior flick, IMHO.

I know this is your list and I'm not honing in here. Just listing a few so that I'm not accused of blindly uh-huhhing.
The Third Man
Last Picture Show
Night on Earth
Animal House
Down by Law
Ghost Dog-Way of the Samurai
400 Blows
All Quiet on the Western Front
Blazing Saddles
The Producers (w/ Zero Mostel)
The Seven Samurai
What About Bob?
Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
Raising Arizona
Oh Brother, Where Art Thou
.....and yes Citizen Kane, which I've seen many times and still get a thrill."

Any of these hit on yours?

DarkoV said...


You wrote ...My only criteria for these fifteen is their watchability factor -- in other words, these will be movies I don't hesitate to turn on and watch yet again.

I think that is the best criteria to use. What the heck's the quality of a movie that you'd watch only once or twice? It's the repeated viewing that determines the durability of a fine film.

Whisky Prajer said...

I wondered if I'd let alliteration get the better of me, but your list gives me hope - fifteen shouldn't be too difficult to cobble together (yes, we do meet on some of the same titles). But now I need to do some work on the blog template...

Cowtown Pattie said...

Well no one invited me to the dance, but I might just crash the party!

Obviously, you and DarkoV will need a little estrogen to offset a loveable testosterone-laden list.

F.C. Bearded said...

Dammit - the old, old problem when it comes to making lists is the hundred you've temporarily forgotten for each one you haven't. They always arrive in a flurry, a moment too late.

So, my favorite fifteen Today would be:

Godfather I
O' Brother
Stairway to Heaven
Life of Brian
The Longest Day
From Russia With Love
There's Something About Mary
The Third Man
Kind Hearts and Coronets

In the Once Were But No Longer category we have:

Harold & Maude
Apocalypse Now!

That said, of all the greatest scenes there have ever been, those choppers comin' in low out of the rising sun, and lots of little children skipping to school, has to be among the very best.

Da da-da daaaaa daaa, Da da-da daaaaaa da...

That scene even prompted me to write my very first helicopter simulator.

ThwuckThwuckThwuckThwuckThwuckThwuck ThwuckThwuckThwuckThwuckThwuckThwuck

Andrew said...

Cool, another list. Tis the season, I suppose. I'll be keeping a watch, and will post a link soon, perhaps Monday. For now, I'm logging off for the weekend.


Dennis Dale said...

There is no value whatsoever to be found in Apocalypse Now. From Sheen's wooden performance, to the great Francis Ford Coppola finding himself completely out of his element, to the mumbling inanity of Brando, to the fumbling for meaning of the tortured, heavy handed ending, and let's not forget the absolute absence of humor anywhere, even when the movie is trying so hard at black comedy.
People have allowed themselves to be fooled into thinking this is a great movie for reasons that are beyond me; maybe it's the catch phrase ("I love the smell of napalm in the morning"--what a ham-handed attempt at irony, another fine actor impaling himself on Milius' preening script), I don't know. When it came out it recieved mixed reviews--it would have been panned if not for Coppola's stature.
I recommend to any young person viewing it to forget everything they've heard about it--watch as you would any film you know nothing about beforehand. The smell napalm? More like the smell of burning celluloid, self destructing to spare itself, and us.
Boogie Nights on the other hand; you couldn't be more correct. That movie reveals a bit more of itself with each viewing. Everytime I watch that opening shot I find myself looking for an indication somewhere that it's been pieced together. I don't care if it's one long shot or not, it's one of the most remarkable tracking shots ever; and the movie is full of these.
As for Scorsese, I think the final scene in Boogie Nights is an homage; it mirrors the final scene of Raging Bull, but instead of getting up and shadow boxing, our hero, well, you know. One of the best movies ever.

Whisky Prajer said...

DD - excellent comments on both films. I'd take issue, however, with "no value whatsoever". The film's overall value is certainly up for debate (especially after Redux: I loved the colour tweaking, but the extra footage put me to sleep - again). I think Pauline Kael was close to the mark. I can't recall her exact words, but she considered the movie a comic book thrillride (as fcb's fond evocation of the helicopters demonstrates). Perhaps to best appreciate its merits it should be set up and contrasted to a flick like Sin City(?).

Dennis Dale said...

Yes, very intemperate of me; obviously there's always something to like in a Coppola film. Guess I was trying to "hook" my readers with an arresting opening (still a better opening line than "Saigon... shit; I'm still only in Saigon..." God how I hate this movie). Dislike is magnified when the object of one's ire is roundly praised; perhaps I feel threatened by my isolation, launching my alternate meme desperately trying to overturn the prevailing order.
Robert Duvall was good, he always is. Dennis Hopper's whacked out reporter was amusing. The Ride of the Valkyries scene was okay, I suppose, and produced one memorable line: "Charlie don't surf." Heart of Darkness, on which this movie was based (ironic too, how Coppola's production was seen as spiralling out of control the jungle, sort of like Kurtz himself), deserves better.

I wouldn't agree with Kael; for me there's no thrill in this ride. It's more like the "Small World" ride at Disneyland than a roller coaster. Something you endured as a kid because Grandma always insisted on it. Full Metal Jacket is a far superior film; unlike Apocalypse no one has to convince you of it. When I first saw it I thought, "fun as hell, but not a great movie" but after repeated viewings it gets better and better. Visually this film is incredible, and having endured Marine Corps boot camp, I can tell you the first half of the movie is hilariously accurate. Notice how familiar the first battle scene in Saving Private Ryan looks; Spielberg set out to recreate the look of the later scenes in Kubrick's film, when they're running through the burnt out 'ville.
I haven't seen Sin City. Last night I watched, again, Mulholland Drive. If you don't mind that there's no way to reconcile it to any sort linear plot it's great. People try to figure this thing out but I think that's beside the point. I have some ideas of my own, but I've already used up enough space here. Someone mentioned color, that's why I was reminded of Mulholland Drive; the most lurid evocative colors you'll see without ingesting something dangerous or illegal.

Whisky Prajer said...

Full Metal Jacket - interesting, since both Kubrick's movie and Coppola's share the same source material: Michael Herr's Dispatches. And I do agree with you about Mulholland Drive - definitely a re-watchable movie.