Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fifteen Movie Questions

So apparently Anna from Defiant Success started a meme asking bloggers 15 movie-related questions (I know, the obscure title throws you off), and Andy from Fandango Groovers tagged me to participate. Hey, why not.

Movie you love with a passion

The Red Shoes. A film that is passion incarnate in all its expressive glory. It and Black Narcissus are why Technicolor was invented.

Movie you vow never to watch

I don't know that I have this position for any film anymore. I swore off Lars von Trier after Dancer in the Dark, only to return for Antichrist, a film that tore me so violently between admiration and hate I now have no choice but to check out Melancholia and see if he is at last turning into a proper filmmaker with ambition to match his Loki-esque tricks. Any film I simply have no desire to see is too unappealing and unexciting to me that it isn't worthy of the bold, energetic proclamation of an oath.

Movie that literally left you speechless

The Tree of Life. My friend and I left the theater, said nothing for some time, tried to make awkward chat about it and failed to say anything, and I cried the whole drive home. There is no other film like it.

Movie you always recommend

The Outlaw Josey Wales. For those in the know, it's Clint Eastwood's best film. But you'd be amazed how many aren't in the know, yet I've converted damn near all of them, film buff and philistine alike. Strikes the same perfect balance between classic Western and revisionism as Once Upon a Time in the West without the epic length that might put some off Leone's film. Barnstorming entertainment, but also Eastwood's first (and purest) directorial show of gruff, tacit humanity. Runner-up: The Apartment. If I have to even explain why, just go rent the damn thing.

Actor/actress you always watch, no matter how crappy the movie

It's gotta be Nic Cage, an actor who can overpower anyone when matched with a good script and able filmmaker and, well, certainly unmissable when the cogs don't exactly mesh. Frankly, I'd rather watch him shout and bear-punch through The Wicker Man, despite how boring the whole film is (to the curious, just stick with the YouTube compilations for maximum comedy) than watch Sean Penn or Angelina Jolie smirk their way through some message movie.

Actor/actress you don’t get the appeal for

So this does not look like I'm merely plagiarizing Andy, I'll forgo my without-hesitation pick Julia Roberts (I almost sacrificed Cage so I could rail on Roberts, but let's stay positive). Instead, I'll go with Kevin Spacey, a man whose preening, write-my-name in-the-stars-with-gossamer egoism cannot disguise the fact that he is best suited to doing (admittedly incredible) impressions on Saturday Night Live rather than using every role to find some terrible, hacky nebula between realistic acting and genuinely emotive Big Acting. You can see temple veins straining in everything, as if he's trying to use telepathy on the audience to psychically coerce us into loving him. You were good in Se7en, champ. That's about it.

Actor/actress, living or dead, you’d love to meet

I'd like to think I could shoot the shit with Katharine Hepburn, but I know I'd just be tongue-tied by her wit and beauty and would basically just hang around awkwardly. But still.

Sexiest actor/actress you’ve seen

Yet again, Andy nabs the self-evident choice, so instead of Eva Green I'll pick my other French flame du jour, Marion Cotillard, who's particularly on my mind (amongst other parts careful) in the wake of Midnight in Paris, in which even the camera froze in sight of her beauty. Her defiant, empowered number in Rob Marshall's otherwise useless Nine damn near made me turn into one of those cartoon wolves with the rolling tongue and bulging eyes (something was bulging, all right stop).

Dream cast

I believe this question is asking me to assemble what I would consider the best cast ever, but I hate just listing my favorite actors. The best cast in the world can't save a POS and God knows the world is littered with enough terrible movies greenlit solely because a number of great actors agreed to a paycheck. So instead I'll post my favorite ensemble. Now, there are plenty of great dramatic casts, and even some that are appropriately big (your average late-career Altman movie was a parade of talent), but the king of the epic cast is the war movie. The Dirty Dozen and The Longest Day come swiftly to mind, but for my money I'll go with Inglourious Basterds, which manged to craft as mesmerizing an ensemble without stunt casting (even Brad Pitt's involvement is utterly subverted). It introduced me to a number of foreign actors, brought out some surprising American choices, and then made a dream cast from obscurity.

Favorite actor pairing

Leaving out genuine double acts or artist-muse couplings like Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, I'd go with Burt Lancaster and a completely against type Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success.

Favorite movie setting

Split decision between A Galaxy Far, Far Away, a place where I found the key to my childhood, and New York, which, more than any other city, can be anything a director wants it to be. You've got your jazzy sin den of Sweet Smell of Success; the fetid, dank horror of Scorsese's pictures; even the unabashed love of Manhattan. Like the real New York, the cinematic one is scary, vibrant, alluring, repellent and irresistible.

Favorite decade for movies

The easy answer is the '70s. It's also the one I'm going with because I'm still catching up with the '40s, '50s and '60s (though the latter's abundance of truly out-there work is starting to challenge the supremacy of the more formal rigors of '70s pleasure in my mind).

Chick flick or action movie

Hmm, I find a great deal of action movies repulsive exhibitions of unchecked masculinity, but I also think chick flicks cage women into rote, paper-thin parts that don't even offer progressive cardboard cutouts. Well, I like more action movies than I do chick flicks, so action wins out. But I'll take a great, insightful, human romance over blood and guts at any time. Having said that, I can think of few better ways to pass the time than with an Asian action film.

Hero, villain or anti-hero?

Anti-hero, of course. A hero without constant self-doubt is as dull as a mustache-twirling villain.

Black and white or color?

And the hardest is saved for last. I would draw this out by weighing the two, but A) this is not that serious and B) there's just no way to choose anyway. But I'll go with color, as it gives me the range of "painting with light" three-strip Technicolor all the way through to Michael Mann's digital snow. But cigarette smoke hasn't looked the same since we moved to color.

I'm supposed to tag other people to post their own answers, but as much as I enjoy doing these to pass the time, I hate pressuring others to participate. Besides, I'm sure anyone I would tag has already been asked by someone else. So I'll just post some of the entries I've seen.

Andy @ Fandango Groovers
Joel Burman @
John Gilpatrick @ John Loves Movies
Julian Stark @ Movies and Other Things
Univarn @ A Life in Equinox


  1. This is great stuff, Jake. It's funny, I comepletely agree with you on Nic Cage and Kevin Spacey. I would throw Anthony Hopkins in the "Actor you don't get the appeal for" category. Also, you say smoke has never looked as good since moving from black and white to color...have you seen a Tony Scott movie! Come on, man! Hehe. Anyway, I really enjoyed this.

  2. Excellent choice for The Apartment as a movie to always recommend. That might actually be my favorite of Wilder's.

    The "Movies you vow never to watch" category gave me the longest pause. I'd probably go with I Spit On Your Grave, since a quick glance at that movie's Wiki tells me everything I need to know about the movie, really.

  3. Thanks for the link Jake!

    Nice list indeed. Gotta say I wasn't that impressed by tree of life I found it rather dull still bot as bad as many says it is but neither a master piece.

  4. Love the plug for Powell and Pressburger's stuff and you're right, Kevin Spacey is trash.

  5. Oh, I just love the inclusion of Sweet Smell of Success for one of your answers. You know the way to a girl's heart.

  6. Cool entry, though I think you're a bit hard on Spacey. I don't usually do stuff like this, but I think I'll tackle it in the next couple of days on my site. Been feeling the need to shake things up a bit.

  7. It isn't too surprising that a Lars Von Trier film would be categorised as one you would never watch.

    I love you choices for movie location - New York can be so beautiful and so ugly, depending what film you're watching. I'm not so sure I'd like to be stuck on Tatooine - a bit too sparse and the bars aren't friendly!

  8. Kevin: I'm not saying that smoke no longer holds power, but it's not the same. You mention Tony Scott, but I think both the Scott brothers are masters of smoke. But they don't get the seductive properties: Tony's use is deliberately gauzy and hot, like a pore sealed from sunburn. Ridley's is obscuring and sinister. The closest I've seen to outright seduction with smoke in a color film is Marla's intro in Fight Club, but even then Fincher undercuts it with several ironies and double meanings.

    Adam: There's nothing I don't love about The Apartment. Like I said, I'm slowly becoming educated in '60s cinema and it is still a top 3 of the decade film after numerous changes.

    Joel B: I confess I have a hard time seeing the other POV for Tree of Life. It hit me as no other movie has, and in such a way that I know my reaction is not mere fandom of Malick.

    Jonny: Thanks for the comment!

    MovieNut: The cat's in the bag and the bag's in the river.

    Joel C: I've always thought this way about Spacey. He's so cloying, yet so stiff in everything he does. He has no gift for delivery, no screen presence, yet he walks around every film like he's God's gift to the craft.

    Dan: Well, LVT isn't really on my bad list any more, although I still think he's a bullshit artist first and foremost (he even offset all the glowing reviews out of Cannes of him growing up with Melancholia with that damn press conference). But I also think he has genuine talent in him and there is some kernel of honesty in him somewhere that fought to get out in Antichrist. People I trust have told me he really brings it out in Melancholia, so I'm actually quite excited to see it.