Friday, June 22, 2007

Camera Obscura - Guest Host Edition

A recent email discussion among some friends prompted me to ask them a question about movies, and then I thought I should bring the whole debate here for this regular Friday movie post.

Here's the set-up: along the lines of a guest-programmer on Turner Classic Movies, I asked my friends to submit a list of 5 movies they would pick for broadcast if they were the guest-host. I also said that more than one list of five was fine by me, so some of those who provided lists offer more than one -- I know the feeling!! It's impossible for me to select the 5 Best Movies, and just picking 5 movies to show on TV is also a tough call.

Choices could be just a list of favorites, a list of must-see-movies, movies that impacted you or the motion picture world forever, etc etc.

What follows are their choices, in the order I received them. Huge thanks to my friends for doing this, and it's something I plan to offer up again to other friends. My list is last because, well, I am always writing about movies so it's most polite to give preference to guests.

From T. Smasken:


  1. Sunset Boulevard—One of my favorites of all time! Billy Wilder’s creepy blend of noir and melodrama take you on the decrepit journey of a washed out silent-film actress and the cold indifference of a town that once worshipped her.
  2. Chinatown-–Polanski in pure form with a visual menagerie of the darker side of the movie business. Nicholson and Dunaway have never been better.
  3. Ed Wood—Burton’s child-like fable of the worst filmmaker ever and his brief stint in the annals of Hollywood history. Depp is charming as the transvestite-director and Landau is simply perfect as the washed-up, heroin addicted Bela Lugosi (of Dracula fame)—the unlikeliest of pairs.
  4. The Player—Robert Altman’s brilliant who’s-who murder mystery of the stars. Casting actors as themselves and an improvisational script create a believability factor that doubles the impact of the ironic ending.
  5. L.A. Confidential—a top-notch cast and dizzying script are pure gold in this gritty depiction of the seedy underbelly of 1950s Hollywood. One of the best films ever made.

No Future

  1. 12 Monkeys
  2. Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
  3. Children of Men
  4. Metropolis
  5. The Wall


  1. The Changeling
  2. The Haunting
  3. The Shining
  4. The Sixth Sense
  5. The Devil’s Backbone

Ultimate Chick Flicks

  1. Steel Magnolias
  2. Far From Heaven
  3. All That Heaven Allows
  4. The Hours
  5. Terms of Endearment

From Newscoma (I always seem to horn in on her movie posts, so I asked her to please provide her picks):

If I could host Turner Classic Movies, here are the ones that I would choose. I would also like to drink wine with Robert Osborne. Can we do that in my movie marathon? (Joe says oh yes to some wine and movies!!)

  1. “Harold and Maude” - There have been millions of words written about this 1971 dark comedy by Hal Ashby and rightfully so. The movie really was one of the first “black” comedies and it resonates well today. A searing commentary on the Vietnam war, classism, elitism, dysfunctional families and death, “Harold and Maude” set a tone that has rarely been repeated in the 36 years since it hit the movie screen. This is more than a love story between Harold (Bud Cort) and Maude (Ruth Gordon) which some viewers may find be a bit queasy about (I personally thought it was well done and quite passionate), it is more about the dynamic of growing up in a world that has already written your biography for you. And as Harold strains to break those confines while fighting unmitigated fears is sheer movie brilliance. Mixing slapstick with raw emotion, this movie was truly one of those coming of age movies that resonated with me and was life-altering. Cat Stevens soundtrack enhances the experience. I can’t recommend this movie enough.
  2. “Shattered Glass” – Stephen Glass was the hottest ticket back in the late nineties in the world of journalism. His work was revered and at the ripe old age of 26, he was the “IT” boy at the New Republic magazine. It appeared Glass was too good to be true, and that turned out to be the case. Glass just made stuff up. This movie eloquently tells a simple story of lies, deceit and a turning point of when the Internet displayed courageous journalistic skills as writer Adam Penenberg of Forbes Digital Tool figured out the “IT” boy was lying through his teeth. The movie is sympathetic to all of the characters involved which is not an easy thing to do, and although I’m not a fan of Hayden Christianson, I do think he nailed his portrayal of Glass well. Was Glass intentionally deceitful? Or was Glass’ continual deception the root of a psychological, inherent need to be something as naive as being liked by his peers, and the world? The inner struggle that Peter Saarsgard displays on his face with very little dialogue is worth the full price of admission. And you’ll never know how many times I’ve had to deal with writers like Chloe Sevigney’s character as Caitlin Avey. She nails the self-righteous young copyeditor that slowly realizes that truth is more important than protecting her friend. I work as an editor, and I must say, I recommend all my new hires see this film because it accurately shows the inner workings of a journalism staff and, more importantly, that everything they write must be backed up with facts because news is about truth. Or at least it should be.
  3. “Female Trouble” – Oh, John Waters. How does a movie that stretches the bounds of good taste made in 1974 so accurately depict the celebrity media frenzy of 2007? I first saw this movie in the mid-eighties and it never gets old. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cheerfully disgusting, will make you cringe and was literally prophetic in it’s commentary on America’s need for 15 minutes of fame. Starring the late Divine, the movie tells the story of Dawn Davenport who begins a life of crime because her parents didn’t buy her a pair of cha-cha shoes. Davenport is a selfish young woman who basically destroys everything she comes into contact with, but it’s funny if you like the gross out as I do. (The best scene of the movie is when Divine has sex with Divine. Beautiful.) The movie explores in hideous detail the world of being famous with tongue-in-cheek and does it brilliantly.
  4. “High Plains Drifter” – Another 70’s film that gets everything right. Clint Eastwood directed HPD in 1974 and it is part spaghetti western/homage to Sergio Leon/Akira Kurosawa and part ghost story. But the groovy thing is you get decide what you want it to be for yourself. Is the nameless anti-hero evil, is he the hand of retribution or is he just one ticked-off cowboy? Eastwood is lethal, taking whatever he wants whenever he wants it and took a bold chance of playing a character that wasn’t very likable during the beginning of his legendary popularity in celluloid. And the symbolic painting of the town red is downright inspirational. Seeing the leadership acting cowardly in the name of greed and for the “best for the town.” As I am a huge fan of horror movies, I tend to subscribe to the theory that it’s a ghost story and Eastwood is one mean revenge-seeking demon.
  5. “Crash” – Joe Powell says this movie is like watching a car wreck, although that’s what it’s about. He’s right, you can’t help but want to look away but when you are watching it, you just can’t take your eyes from the screen. This movie is more than the graphic sexuality displayed throughout the David Cronenberg directed film, it’s about the need to feel something, anything, and that’s why it works. The premise is hard to figure out, because the sex is so in-your-face that it almost desensitizes viewers (I think that’s what Cronenberg set out to do), but it’s also about the inner workings of the minds that are so bored that they need to feel something as it hinges on the danger of finding sexual pleasure in the shadow of death. The lead characters of Deborah Kara Unger and James Spader are obviously bored and carry on an open relationship where they tell each other about their carnal exploits. When Spader has a car wreck and sees Holly Hunter expose her breast to him (they are both injured), he begins a journey of being sexually titillated by car crashes and develops a passion for it, something that was missing in his life. But the story is much more layered than just sex for sex’s sake. It’s about unleashing emotion and explores a fine line between death and sexual release. I find it interesting that everyone I’ve ever spoken to about this film has a strong opinion about it, and its usually negative. I’ve often wondered if it’s because as much as that certain people don’t want to relate to the plot, they do and it scares them.
From Cinemonkey:

Cinemonkey writes that he (Cinemonkey) is providing two lists, because they are small, & he is greedy.

Robert Mitchum Night -- Because he is my favorite actor, ever. He's fantastic at whatever role he takes on - hero, villain, drunk, priest - he makes them all real, multi-shaded, & multi-dimensional. A very abbreviated list of 5 Mitchum movies would include:

The Big Sleep - doing the best version of Phillip Marlowe automatically makes you the best film P.I.

Night of the Hunter - one scary-ass SOB.

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison - one of Bob's (I call him Bob.....) plethora of war pictures, this one stands out because of Deborah Kerr's wonderful portrayal of a nurse trying diligently not to fall in love with Mitchum's character as he singlehandedly takes on a squadron of Japanese who have taken over the island they were stranded on.

The Enemy Below - another war picture, this featuring a cat-&-mouse game between Mitchum's weary destroyer captain & Curt Jurgen's noble sub commander.

El Dorado - Mayyy-be my favorite western. Not exactly an official remake of Rio Bravo, but close enough, & to me, a superior version of the story. Much as I like Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum is more able to go toe-to-toe with the Duke.

Oh, Those Wacky '60's! Night
Bikinis ! Spies ! Drugs ! H-Bombs ! What fun the '60's were ! During my formative years, there were some pretty weirded-out flicks. May be why I'm such a toon.
Our Man Flint - Derek Flint was the coolest spy whose initials weren't JB. And if I ever finish my time machine, I'm producing a live action Jonny Quest movie with James Coburn as Race Bannon.

The Pink Panther - The beginning of my Peter Sellers trilogy. I love heist movies. And I love slapstick. And Robert Wagner's role as Sir Charles Lytton's nephew, George probably led to "It Takes a Thief", which gains the movie points right there.

Casino Royale - David Niven again. And Peter Sellers. And Woody Allen. All as James Bond. Did I mention they did a lot of drugs in the '60's?

Dr. Strangelove - The ultimate spoof of just about everything, especially power.

Beach Blanket Bingo - Make fun of Frankie & Annette all you want (I won't stop you), because the reall star of this movie was the wonderful Bob Cummings. And not only did this movie spawn an entire genre, it also gave us one of the best comic villains of all time, the hapless Eric Von Zipper!

From the Sultan of Cinema:


The Godfather - Possibly the best movie ever made and one I never tire of watching. Coppolla's best work. Excellent characters and performances, stunning cinematography, memorable lines and scenes, and great music. The final "hit" sequence is classic. Michael slow descent into the "family business" is so well played by Pacino. And that final shot, after looking his wife in the eyes and lying, when the body-guard slowly closes the door, locking Kaye out of the business.....

Alien - One of the greatest science fiction movies ever made. A haunted house in space. Incredible production design and pacing. From the opening birth scene to Ripley's hibernation we are drawn into a story that terrifies and fascinates at the same time. Great characters and performances.

Citizen Kane - Tops Godfather for best American film just because of the innovations to the media. Orson Welles' magnum opus of corruption and ambition. He later went on to do a version of Macbeth and I thought "Why, you already did it". The high contrast photography is so memorable in the viewing room and Kane's mansion. Every single aspect of the film-making industry is done to perfection.

Sunset Boulevard - William Holden's best role until Network. A classic look at old Hollywood. Nora Desmond is such a tragic figure. In fact, every person in the film is a tragic character. And the opening v.o. with the pool hooks you from the very start.
Silence of the Lambs - A much deserved Oscar for a film that returned the horror genre to what it should be. A movie that far out-shines the book with great performances and truly terrifying scenes. Demme's choice of intense close-ups is so unsettling and only a cast of this caliber could have pulled it off.

The Comedy List

Animal House - Although I dislike John Landis this is still one of the funniest movies ever made. A farce that perfectly captures the Lampoon and all of its comic style. The characters and lines are so memorable - from Blutto to Neidermeyer to the Dean. A movie that everyone is still trying to imitate.

City Lights - Chaplin's second best film. A comedy that transformed the silent movie from slap-stick comedy to character humor that had a heart. Chaplin's genius is captured so well in the final scene.

Raising Arizona - The Coen Brothers re-invent the comedy and bring "redneck humor" to life long before the Blue Collar boys. Almost every line is quotable and the filmmaking style of the brothers keeps the story barreling ahead down that Texas highway. Great characters like Nathan Arizona and the Warthog from hell!
Austin Powers - International Man of Mystery - An excellent example of true parody writing. Michael Myers captures every nuance of the Bond films and elevates them to grand farce. The names are great, the pacing is strong, and in-jokes are spot on. Yeah, baby!

Arthur - Just a favorite of mine. I loved Dudley Moore and Sir John Gielgud. The lines are hilarious and the humor is very well played - despite Liza Minnelli.

The Fantasy/Fun List - (I had to do one of these.)

Excalibur - Even though Boorman took great liberties with the Arthurian legend this is a great cinematic work. I like the armor and all of the performances by the RSC. Merlin was wonderfully played as was Arthur. I still quote the Charm of Making!

Star Wars - Nothing will top the feeling of sitting in that theatre when I was fifteen years old and having my mind blown away. It may be just a simple heroic space opera - but it was just magical. Lucas set the bar for special effects and showed that science fiction is still a great genre. Despite franchises, sequels, and retro-active history this is a classic film.

Hunt for Red October - Not a fantasy - but a film I could watch once a month. I simply, simply love it. It's got big submarines, nice intrigue, solid plotting and is just a fun ride.
Star Trek - The Wrath of Khan - Undoubtedly the BEST of the Trek movies. The classic show elevated to the motion picture realm in a great way. Every element is here including Shatner's over-acting "Khan!", and the ending I had wanted to see for years.

The Exorcist - Still the scariest movie I have ever seen. I saw it at a 9:00 in a completely deserted theater. I still shiver thinking about those slow tracking shots down the hall to the closed bedroom door. I just knew something bad was going to happen in the next scene. Watching it in years since I even like the extraordinary slow pace at the beginning. It lulls you almost to a stupor and then grabs you.

I had to do a Theatre List -

Camelot - Great music, great story, great Arthur.

All That Jazz - Bob Fosse in all of his glory - from story, to choreography, to to cinematography. By far the BEST look at a Theater director - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Does talent require ego. Bob says yes!

Oliver - A excellent adaptation of the stage play and one of the few musicals that I can say I like EVERY song in the work. Great period costume design and scenic work as well.
Sleuth - Another great adaptation and just a fun ride all the way through. A two-character piece that never lets up. And a very rousing theme song as well.

Lion in Winter - Goldman did an amazing job in adapting his own work and the cast is simply fantastic. Of course, Peter O'Toole is brilliant, but the interplay between him and Katherine Hepburn - the wit and parry that goes on is stunning.

Cup of Joe Picks:

I had a tough time with this experiment as I had to whittle down a list of 25 to 5. After much wrangling and such, I picked 5 movies that made me a movie fan, movies that made me want to be a movie-maker, movies that still entertain me and also educated me about making movies.

"It's A Gift" -- A masterpiece of comedy from W.C. Fields, which also pokes fun at America and the family life while also giving them a warm hug. Fields' script, physical comedy, casting choices are flawless and also capture the time it was made though it is a timeless story. Fields and family are about to sell their grocery store and head to California to run an orange grove, though little goes as planned. This scene from the grocery store is one of my favorites.

"The Maltese Falcon" - This 1941 movie from director John Huston and writer Dashiell Hammett invented the modern detective movie and gave America one of Humphrey Bogart's best performances. You never know for sure who is telling the truth here and Bogart works that angle like a pro. A lean and tight script under the hands of Huston has more layers than an onion.

"The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" - In my mind, the modern template on which other action movies are drawn. Your hero choice is often simply the less bad among a group of bad men. The narrative is staggered into stages, and the musical score among the best ever.

"The Last Picture Show" - Melancholy tale of a dying small town and the arid emptiness inside those who live there. Trying to leave town is nearly impossible. This is one of many movies which made me want to make movies. It outwardly visualizes what is inside, but never really dips into impressionism. A great novel by Larry McMurtry, exceptional performances by the entire cast, and beautiful photography.

"The Red Shoes" - This 1948 musical is one of my favorite movies for many reasons (and I hate musicals).The movie had me both spellbound and terrified when I watched it when I was a kid, and it does the same today. It's a movie about the artistic process, about stage productions, fame and dreams, and it's also about the price the artist, or those who aspire to art, pay for their freedoms. The jaw-dropping photography includes an 18-minute dance sequence that is a phantasmagorical masterpeice.

Huge thanks to these fine movie fans and friends for offering their views. If you have a list of 5 movies you would like to offer, just post them in the comments!!


  1. Cathy9:34 AM

    I would have put The Wall in the no future category until I saw it as an adult and didn't pass out before the final scene. :)

  2. Cinemonkey6:11 PM

    You skipped my 60's list, ya heathen!

  3. D'Oh!!

    Or as agent M. Smart once said "missed it by THIS much!"

    apologies and now corrected.

  4. Anonymous9:02 PM

    1. The Seven Samurai
    2. Apocalypse Now
    3. The Naked Prey
    4. Blade Runner
    5. The Savage Innocents

  5. Anonymous9:15 PM

    By the way, this link subscribes you to comments to this post.

  6. Cinemonkey10:39 PM

    Thanks for the opportunity to play network exec, dude. And keep me in mind if you ever get "Powell Classic Movies" up & running.

  7. Cinemonkey10:47 PM

    'Mute, your list has given me a megalithic vision! If someone could combine Seven Samurai, Apocalypse Now, & Blade Runner.....Well, my head might explode, but damn!!

  8. Thanks Joe.
    This was a lot of fun.

  9. thanks for adding your movie list, Wintermute -- but that link to the comments seems to be wonky!

  10. The Apartment
    Rear Window
    Breakfast at Tiffany's
    Roman Holiday (are we seeing a pattern here? You could put a still photo up of Gregory Peck and William Holden and I could babble for hours about them!)
    I could keep going. TCM is my favorite!!!

  11. Sista -Rear Window was on my short list and the romantic leads in The Apartment still light up the screen. plus, it has a nifty way to strain spaghetti!!

    thanks for adding your lists!!

  12. Anonymous2:42 PM

    Here's my "Guilty Pleasures" category of movies I can't seem to click away from even though I've seen them a bajillion times...

    1. Dumb and Dumber
    2. The American President
    3. That Thing You Do
    4. The Shawshank Redemption
    5. Sleepless In Seattle

  13. Great One's you missed (or forgot about):
    Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
    Good Night and Good Luck
    The Man Who Knew Too Little

    Pre-1970 Classics:
    Wait Until Dark
    Arsenic and Old Lace
    The Philadelphia Story
    The Day The Earth Stood Still

    wow. this really got me thinking. i'm gonna blog about this...more tomorrow...

  14. Kevin - Dumb and Dumber always makes me laugh, much to my surprise. Your 3 and 4 picks are good ones two. But I'll pass on even watching "Sleepless", heh heh.

    Paul - Man Who Knew Too Little is deeply underratted. One of Murray's best. But do you mean the Oscar movie with Sly Stallone?
    And yeah, Paul, this exercise can evoke "List Fever."

  15. Yes, i mean the Stallone movie 'Oscar'. Amazingly well written, and i think its Sly's best movie, or close to it. Totally a different type of movie for him. And the rest of the cast is stellar.

  16. okay, just making sure i knew which movie you meant. and btw, i loved Sky Cap'n too.

  17. Anonymous5:44 AM

    i want in on cinemonkey's johnny quest, with james "race" coburn