September 28, 2014

1,000 minutes

Let's say you had 1,000 minutes that you wanted to spend watching movies. That's about 16.7 hours in total, so you could in theory wake up tomorrow, start watching at 9:00 am and be finished just before midnight. What would you watch with those 1,000 minutes? Which films would you choose? You could pick a movie franchise and run through it, I guess. In 1,000 minutes you could burn your way through the entire Friday the 13th saga, barring the last 10 minutes of the 2009 remake. On the other hand you could go for a wider variety of films - pick stuff from different directors, genres, countries of origin, and so on.

I was wondering what I would recommend. If I was to give someone 1,000 minutes' worth of feature films to watch, which movies would I choose? Under the cut you'll find what I selected. These are favourite films, but more than that they're favourite films that I really wish more people could see. They're films that have stuck with me for years, and which I'm always telling people they should check out. I don't need to list Blade Runner (my favourite film) or Singin' in the Rain (my standard pick when someone demands I name the best film), because they're famous all by themselves. I want to look at what I'd recommend from all of the other films I love.

It's Always Fair Weather
(102 mins. Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen.)
I reviewed this 1955 MGM musical on The Angriest back in February 2013. Back then I wrote: 'The film is, at its core, about facing one's own failings and trying to change yourself for the better. As a result, it earns its happy ending in a fashion that's foreign to most musicals. I can see why audiences failed to appreciate this film at the time. It's really the darkest, most nuanced musical MGM ever made.' On top of that, it's got a tap dance sequence using trash can lids, Cyd Charisse being utterly charming and Gene Kelly realising he may not be a horrible person while performing a dance routine on roller skates.

 (94 mins. Directed by Sally Potter.)
I first saw Orlando on videotape about a year after it was released in 1992. I was attracted to the copy on the back cover, which told of an Elizabethan era aristocrat who, upon instruction from Elizabeth I to never grow old, lives for several centuries and changes sex along the way. It was a revelatory experience: the first genuine arthouse film I had ever seen, produced in a distinctive fashion with non-realist visuals and a stunning central performance by Tilda Swinton. It read me to read the Virginia Woolf novel on which it is based and like that too. When people talk about their favourite fantasy films they often name-check The Lord of the Rings, or The Dark Crystal. I name-check Orlando.

Throw Down
(95 mins. Directed by Johnnie To.)
There was a time, for many years, when my favourite director in the whole world was Steven Spielberg. I still love Spielberg's stuff, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that Johnnie To has become my favourite director instead. He is a writer and director of the best films to come out of Hong Kong since its 1997 handover to China. He directs triad gangster flicks like nobody's business. He alternates them with idiosyncratic romantic comedies. This film, which is his 2004 ode to Akira Kurosawa, is my favourite. It stars regular collaborator Louis Koo as a judo master slowly going blind, alongside Cherrie Ying as a low-level criminal in love with him and Aaron Kowk as a young up-and-comer who wants to challenge Koo to one final match. It's carefully observed, beautifully shot and is as faithful and heartfelt an ode to Kurosawa that you could imagine.

(154 mins. Directed by Steven Spielberg.)
Of course my mention of Spielberg above made me immediately remember what is probably my favourite of his films. Most people would pick Jaws, or Raiders of the Lost Ark or even E.T. the Extraterrestrial, and they are all world-class masterpiece movies, but I have never fully shaken off the profound impact of Amistad, his 1997 drama about a shipload of African slaves who overthrow their slavers, try to escape to land and wind up the centre of a United States legal wrangle that pushes the country a step closer to civil war. It's long, but has a well-measured pace, a jaw-dropping debut performance by Djimon Hounsou - who should have won every acting award in America that year - and a central, lengthy sequence told entirely without dialogue that is to my mind the greatest seven or eight minutes of film Spielberg has ever directed. Bizarrely, despite his overwhelming popularity, this is Spielberg's second-lowest grossing film after his debut The Sugarland Express.

Humanity and Paper Balloons
(86 mins. Directed by Sadao Yamanaka.)
I discovered this 1937 drama while researching a forthcoming book about Japanese cinema, and indeed it's forming one of the earlier chapters. It's a period piece about a disgraced masterless samurai, heavy on drinking and desperate to restore his honour, who falls in with the wrong friend with tragic consequences. For its time its a beautifully shot film, with an overwhelming mournful sensibility. Its director, seen at the time as Japan's most promising director, was conscripted in the Imperial Army before shooting commenced - largely as a penalty for his left-wing politics - and was shipped to the Manchurian front the same day this film opened in Tokyo. Weeks later he was already dead from dysentry, aged 28. This is an immensely powerful work, packed with grief and rage. Talk to experts on Japanese cinema today and they mention Kurosawa, Ozu and Mizoguchi. Had he lived, they would also have mentioned Yamanaka.

Close to Home
(99 mins. Directed by Dalia Hager and Vidi Bilu.)
This is a 2005 Israeli drama about two disparate young women forced to serve together as part of their national service, examining the identity papers of Palestinian workers in Jerusalem. Like all of the films above, this one stuck in my head the first time I saw it and never left me. It's a low budget work, but an immensely powerful one that focuses on its characters and allows its political beliefs to gently creep in from the periphery. Back in January 2011 I reviewed it on this blog, writing that 'Close to Home is like a checklist for quality. Strong realism, powerful emotion, well-rendered characters, conflict, depth, challenging material, strong production values on a limited budget: this film seems to get everything right.'

Les Maitres du Temps (aka The Time Masters)
(79 mins. Directed by Rene Laloux.)
Rene Laloux was a French animator and director. His first film, Fantastic Planet (1973), was a critical smash and won the special jury prize at Cannes. It took him nine years to complete his second feature, Les Maitres du Temps, which is a stunning and inventive film designed by French master artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud and based on a 1958 science fiction novel by Stefan Wul. It's incredibly French, in the best possible way. Moebius fans will be in heaven. This film is very well known among the French, and it was used as a school holiday filler on television for years, but its repute never really extended to the English-speaking world. Due to his extremely small budgets, Laloux often produced his films in the strangest of places - basically wherever it was cheapest. Fantastic Planet he shot in Czechoslovakia. Les Maitres du Temps he produced in Hungary. Gandahar, his third and final film, was animated in North Korea.

Kingdom of Heaven: The Director's Cut
(194 mins. Directed by Ridley Scott.)
Ridley Scott is best known for Blade Runner, Alien, Thelma and Louise and Gladiator. To that list I always want to add Kingdom of Heaven, his 2005 medieval epic set during the lead-up to the Fall of Jerusalem. The problem is that very few people have seen it to agree with me, and those who have generally only saw the truncated theatrical edit, cut down by 20th Century Fox to a point where it became near-nonsensical. This expanded director's cut shows the film off for what it is: a bona fide Hollywood epic in the vein of the classics, playing host to a range of great performances and telling a period story with profound contemporary relevance. No one acknowledges how bold it was to release a film less than five years after 9/11, via a major movie studio, that portrayed Muslims as honourable, civilized and technologically advanced, and the European Christian crusaders as something damn close to utter barbarians. It is such a rich viewing experience, and Orlando Bloom - always the critics' whipping boy - is surprisingly good in the lead role of Balian of Ibelin. The fact that it's visually beautiful should come as no surprise - it's Ridley Scott.

Something Wicked This Way Comes
(95 mins. Directed by Jack Clayton.)
Walt Disney Pictures had a pretty tough time in the 1970s. Their films weren't grossing what they used to, and when Star Wars hit it big in 1977 they suddenly discovered they'd lost their grip on American kids altogether. The company was thrown into a mad panic, producing film after film that they hoped would appeal to an edgier, more sophisticated generation, but constantly failing to quite connect with them. Most people my age probably saw the bulk of these films on home video - The Black Hole, Tron, Dragonslayer, Return to Oz, et al - but one of the least seen was Jack Clayton's 1983 children's horror Something Wicked This Way Comes. Ray Bradbury adapted his own book, Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce starred, and the result was something genuinely brilliant.

(95 mins. Directed by Bruce McDonald.)
In a small-town Canadian radio station in the middle of winter, reports start coming in of random acts of violence, then riots in the streets, and then what sounds like a zombie apocalypse. A DJ, his producer and the office go-fer are forced to wait and see if the carnage comes to them. This is a great ultra-low budget horror movie, with a seam of black comedy running right through it, that manages to never leave the one room and still remains rivetting from beginning to end. Stephen McHattie is great as the cowboy hat-wearing, disgraced DJ Grant Mazzy, and the whole film wears its Canadian origins proudly on its sleeve.

The Muppet Christmas Carol
(85 mins. Directed by Brian Henson.)
Jim Henson died suddenly in 1990. He was a profoundly significant figure in American popular culture, and among his numerous film and television achievements he was the creator of the Muppets. The Muppets formed as much a core of my childhood as anything. When Henson died it was a tremendous loss for his colleagues, but two years later his son Brian picked up the reins to direct The Muppet Christmas Carol, the first Muppet movie in eight years and a stunning tribute to his father's legacy. It's not just one of the best Muppet movies ever, beaten only by the original Muppet Movie and its sequel The Great Muppet Caper, and it's not just the best screen adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol - which it absolutely is - it's also an act of closure. It's a farewell. This was the very last time the Muppets were this good. Everything afterwards - Muppet Treasure Island, Muppets Tonight, Muppets from Space and particularly Disney's two recent relaunches - was just a shadow. This was, in effect, the farewell tour and a wake, and manages to be pretty much the perfect Christmas movie for all ages at the same time.

All told, these 11 films should take you the whole 1,000 minutes to watch. If I wrote this list tomorrow, it would probably be a completely different set of films. That's the beauty of cinema, I guess. So many good films. So many choices.

This was the 1,000th post on The Angriest, which I started writing - at least in this current form - on 7 January 2011. The first post was a review of the 1970s British children's drama The Feathered Serpent. Thanks to all of you who continue to read the blog.

1 comment:

  1. I love this list! I plan to make a point of watching pretty much all of the movies you've listed. With the exception of the 2 horror films toward the end, and the Muppet Christmas Carol.

    The horror films because I just don't enjoy them pretty much at all. And Muppet Christmas Carol because I only recently saw it for the first time. I did love it though, very much.

    I am not sure how I missed it growing up, but I am so glad I loved it so much upon first viewing.

    If you have any other movies you'd recommend me, I would love it :)


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