Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Cinema Interruptus

By Edward Copeland
I admit it — DVD has decidedly changed my movie-viewing habits. Granted, fatigue has a lot to do with it, but it's rare that I watch anything from beginning to end anymore. The surprising thing to me is how little it seems to affect my opinion on the movie in general — and if something is really good, it will hold my attention no matter how tired I am.

As I mentioned previously, it took me more than two weeks to get through Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, but I'm not sure my opinion would have been much different if I'd seen the whole thing in a more reasonable period of time.

However, this was certainly not the case with The Best of Youth, Marco Tullio Giordana's six-hour story of two brothers spanning the years 1963-2000 in Italy. Because of its length, it's divided on two discs, which unfortunately no rental services seem to want to send out at the same time. As a result, I finished part 1 back on April 7 and didn't get Part 2 until a few days ago, finishing it last night.

Miraculously, I did remember most of what had happened before, but something was definitely lost by the interruption and it's a shame, because I think this is probably a very good movie. The leads — Luigi Lo Cascio and Allesio Boni — are both good as are most of the supporting cast, especially Sonia Bergamasco as Giulia and the great Adriana Asti (so memorable in Vittorio De Sica's 1970s film A Brief Vacation) as the men's mother. I really can't craft a coherent review of the film, due to the way I had to watch it, but even under those less-than-perfect circumstances, I could tell there was much to admire.

Perhaps some day I'll try it again when I can watch it in a more compressed time period. Mail rental services should really take steps to prevent this sort of delay.

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Monday, May 29, 2006


Paul Gleason (1939-2006)

Asshole Central Casting has lost one of its charter members. Paul Gleason has died at the age of 67. His credits on episodic television were extensive, but it was probably two supreme film roles as jerks that will be his legacy.

First and foremost, there was Principal Richard Vernon in 1985's The Breakfast Club, the chief villain overseeing the quintet of students spending Saturday in detention in a high school library. Of course, it's difficult to watch John Hughes' film these days because it just seems so ridiculous (I always hated the ending), but the last time I saw it I actually found myself more on Vernon's side than the kids. I guess age will do that to you.

The other role that I always remember Gleason for is Deputy Police Chief Dwayne Robinson in 1988's Die Hard, where seemingly every minor character was cast out of Asshole Central Casting (alongside Gleason there were William Atherton, Robert Davi, Hart Bochner, just to name a few) so it wasn't just the bad guys giving Bruce Willis a pain in the ass. He not only excelled once again as a jerk, his deadpan delivery was delicious as he delivered lines like "I guess we have to get some more FBI guys" and "I hope that's not a hostage."

Even earlier, he was the crooked government insider out to slip Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche inside information in 1983's Trading Places, only to end up as bride to a gorilla.

RIP Paul Gleason.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Knockin' on Cinema's Door

By Edward Copeland
This post shall be brief, but I wanted to scribble a few thoughts on Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid while I have them. I can't really assess the film, since I still don't have the emotional attention span to really judge a feature-length film yet. It literally took me two weeks of stopping and starting to get through the movie, which in this case is the reworked 2005 version of the movie. Having never seen it before and having even less patience to try to get through a commentary track, I can't compare the two. It certainly didn't seem to be up to Peckinpah's best, but I'm not much of a judge right now.

Hopefully, I'm going to be back in the swing of things soon, but I don't know. Green Cine just sent me part 2 of The Best of Youth, months after I saw part 1. I hope I can remember what happened in the first half. As for Pat Garrett, two things did stand out for me. Of course, there is Bob Dylan (and until I glanced over at Liverputty, I had no idea today was his 65th birthday) and his music. Not sure how good his performance really is, but he did have a face made for Westerns. The other is the vast cast of Western regulars who pop up in a variety of roles both large and small, especially James Coburn as Garrett. Two of them provide what to me was the most vivid image of the entire movie. I may not recall much about the movie, but I doubt I'll forget the looks between Katy Jurado and the wounded Slim Pickens. It may be the most touching images I've ever seen in a Peckinpah film.

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Friday, May 19, 2006


Tarzan's Lament

By Josh R
My name is Josh R, and I am a cineholic. My drug of choice is classic films of the 1930s and 1940s. I’ve made several unsuccessful attempts to kick the habit...I do manage to limit myself to contemporary films while Oscar season is in full swing. But as soon as those little golden goodies are handed out, I inevitably fall off the wagon. Don’t judge me.

During my formative years, my parents were too naïve to recognize the telltale signs of addiction — or perhaps they made the deliberate decision to turn a blind eye to something they couldn’t bring themselves to acknowledge. By the time I was 5, I would spend every Sunday morning watching the kiddie matinee on a local cable channel — usually a Shirley Temple or Tarzan film — in the case of the latter, it was more often the cheapo B-movie sequels featuring a paunchy, middle-age Johnny Weismuller made long after Maureen O’Sullivan had jumped ship (sometimes it wasn't even Weismuller, but Lex Barker or Gordon Scott). These films generally sported titles like Tarzan and the Cobra Woman, Tarzan and the Amazons, and Tarzan and the Mermaids. I grew up believing that the darkest jungles of Africa were populated almost entirely by secret tribes of pretty white women with ample cleavage who existed solely for the purpose of getting nailed by Tarzan (apparently Jane rivaled even Hillary Clinton in the forbearance department).

Even at the tender of age of 5, I probably instinctively recognized that these films were crap — even so, I loved them. I occasionally wonder what it would be like to revisit them today. Sadly, they almost never air on television, all but a scant few are available on DVD, and most have never even received a video release. Perhaps this is excusable given the nature of the material — these are, after all, films with little discernible artistic merit beyond what pleasures can be derived by watching scantily clad contract players in loincloths and bikinis delivering risible dialogue in the service of a ludicrous storyline. More troubling is the fact that many good or great films from this era, including those helmed by acclaimed filmmakers and featuring major stars of the period, are similarly missing in action. Several have a certain degree of standing within the annals of film history, even if they remain relatively unknown to anyone beyond the most ardent cinema enthusiast.

Why some of these films have languished in the land of lost movies remains anyone’s guess. Some of it may be cold, hard economics — the studios simply don’t feel that’s worth their while to shell out for the DVD release of a film for which there’s a limited market. Several critics, in recapping the career of the great Billy Wilder after his death in 2002, lamented the fact that his cynical masterpiece, Ace in the Hole, remained unavailable for viewing in any form to the general public. Featuring Kirk Douglas as an unscrupulous reporter who turns a tragic mine cave-in into a three-ring media circus, the film has become something of a Holy Grail for film buffs. Presumably, prints still exist in archives or private collections, although it’s never been released on video and is nowhere in evidence on the TV schedule. I bought a copy on eBay — junkies like me can spend hours trolling eBay searching for rare and out-of-print films, usually with a certain degree of success.

Unfortunately, the items themselves are usually homemade videotapes of inferior quality auctioned off at ridiculously exorbitant prices. Such was also the case with another purchase I made, a video copy of The Constant Nymph, a romantic weepie for which Joan Fontaine received an Oscar nomination in 1943. I cried, alright — the picture was so grainy and distorted I could barely make out facial features (I’m reasonably sure the leading man was either Charles Boyer or Robert Montgomery, but you can’t tell from looking at it). This particular film will never be available on video, or be allowed television airings, because of an ongoing legal dispute over who owns the rights. For Oscar buffs such as Mr. Copeland and myself, who consider it a matter of principle to see as many nominated performances as we can get our grubby little hands on, it’s been particularly rough going — you’d be surprised how many films with major nominations are missing in action. For me, 1951 is the most frustrating year — Death of a Salesman and The Blue Veil, which received a total of five acting nominations between them, are both hard commodities to come by. Five nominations — that’s a whole freakin’ category. I need my fix, man.

In spite of the obvious problems with picture quality, which can be variable, eBay has proved an invaluable resource in terms of locating and obtaining rare films. My wallet’s a little lighter, but there are several wonderful films I never would have been able to see otherwise. My favorite to date is Frank Borzage’s 1933 tragic drama Man’s Castle, with Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young giving sensitive performances as vagrants who fall in love in a depression-era shantytown; the film is as striking visually and thematically in its own right as Sunrise, the director’s most celebrated film.

The best recent acquisition I’ve made is The Macomber Affair, a fascinating Zoltan Korda film from 1947. The picture quality is actually pretty good — it looks as though it was taped sometime in the '80s (the logo for KETA 13 in Oklahoma City is emblazoned across the bottom of the screen during the opening credits — shout-out to the Okies!), but it doesn’t show too much evidence of decay. I wanna talk about it a bit, because it’s fresh in memory and I want to provide y’all with an idea of what kinds of treasures are out there that you’re not being allowed to see.

Based on “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway, the film concerns a typically Hemingway-esque great white hunter/rugged individualist who is hired to lead a Kenyan safari by a wealthy American couple — whose relationship isn’t what it initially appears to be. In the isolation of the African wild, the guide finds himself drawn into an elaborate game of recrimination and cruelty worthy of an Albee play — and one with deadly consequences. An unsettling examination of passion and betrayal, Korda’s film noir benefits from gorgeous location photography and some unconventional casting choices which pay great dividends. Gregory Peck is surprisingly effective in the kind of hard-bitten, rough-hewn man’s man kind of role one would usually associate with Clark Gable. It’s an unusual triumph for him, considering how lackluster I find most of the performances from this early stage of his career. Not that Peck himself was entirely to blame for this — no one in Hollywood seemed to know exactly what to do with this lean, handsome actor in the 1940s, before he’d attained the kind of gravitas one associates with his most famous performances. The contrast of delicate, almost feminine features and a gruff, preternaturally deep voice undoubtedly made him a bit of a casting paradox — he usually got stuck playing the dull embodiment of decency (his Oscar-nominated turns in Keys to the Kingdom, The Yearling and Gentlemen’s Agreement) or as eye-candy opposite a female superstar (squiring Greer Garson in Valley of Decision and Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound). When he tried to play badass, as in the lurid Duel in the Sun (a debacle that’s really kind of fascinating in its awfulness), the results could be embarrassing — although considering that this is the same film that cast little Jennifer Jones as an oversexed halfbreed temptress, he does his best to rise above the sheer lunacy of it all. But with the right part, good material and the guidance of a skilled director working together in happy complicity, he had the ability to shine — his undeniable star quality is evident in every film that he made during this period, but The Macomber Affair is probably the only film he made in the 1940s, other than 12 O’Clock High, where his talent was put to full use.

Every great film noir needs a femme fatale, and The Macomber Affair features a specialist in the field — in fact, one of the best who ever vamped her way across the screen. Joan Bennett began her career as an innocuous, rather circumspect blonde, raising her naturally husky voice several octaves to a strained helium-induced squeak so as not to seem abrasive, and was more or less overshadowed by her sister Constance (who was briefly a top female box office attraction in the early 1930s). It wasn’t till the '40s that little sister got wise, dispensed with the peroxide, let her whisky-soaked alto rip, and bared her fangs for Fritz Lang in a succession of deliciously nasty roles (anyone who hasn’t seen her lolling about in slovenly splendor as ‘Lazy Legs’ in Scarlet Street, get ye to a rental store). The Macomber Affair makes generous use of her peculiar gifts, but allows the actress more emotional complexity than the Lang films did — she’s a cool, patrician beauty in a white hat and gloves whose prim exterior masks deep-seated resentments and an aching awareness what living a lie has cost her. Bennett allows the audience to feel sympathy for her character, who doesn’t fully understand how she allowed herself to be trapped in a dysfunctional marriage based in accommodation and denial, and whose efforts to avoid being poisoned by the contempt she feels for both and her husband and herself have ended in futility. Even as the film moves to its inevitable conclusion, her motives remain ambiguous — we’re never really sure how many of her actions are intentional, and to what extent she’s simply at the mercy of her own subconscious. Bennett convinces us that she doesn’t know either. The third member of the triangle is Robert Preston (yes, that Robert Preston), who has the trickiest role, and delivers the film’s most stunningly executed performance. For those who know him only from his galvanizing, personality-driven turns in The Music Man and Victor/Victoria, this early performance reveals a wrinkle to his talent heretofore completely unsuspected. At first glance, and for much of the film, Preston seems little more than an ingratiating, slightly dull-witted milquetoast. His bland affability catches you completely off guard, as the actor gradually reveals the dark undercurrents of depravity and despair that lurk beneath the surface geniality. Cowardice isn’t a benign attribute when coupled with self-knowledge; shame and self-loathing create an emotional disturbance which, in turn, manifests itself as physical violence. It’s pretty obvious that Preston’s "problems" are meant to be symbolic of male impotency — it’s his own blistering awareness of his shortcomings as a man which drive his need to victimize the weak.

So this is basically an example of a movie that has not been deemed worthy of any kind of release for home viewing, because apparently none of you could possibly be interested in seeing a film which is in black and white and doesn't have any explosions (United Artists, welcome to my shit list). Of course, if there’s a specific crappy, mindless action flop from the '80s or '90s — let’s call it, oh, Daylight — you can go to and find listings for a widescreen DVD, a fullscreen DVD, a collector’s edition with special features, a two-disc special deluxe commemorative issue with special features on the special features (The Making of the Making of Daylight, anyone?), and so on and so on until we arrive at a limited-edition, five-disc, velvet-lined, jewel-encrusted box set of platinum discs with complimentary t-shirt and tote bag that no one with a modicum of taste would ever f**king want. Studios, shape up. There will always be an audience for great classic films, so stop underestimating your clientele. Thus ends my tirade.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006


The Poor Man's Edward Copeland

By Josh R
Greetings to everyone out there in the blogosphere — this is Edward Copeland’s faithful sidekick Josh R, whom you may or may not know depending on whether or not you’ve had the patience to get through any of the ridiculously long-winded, mostly derivative yet occasionally insightful posts and comments I’ve left on this site.

As some of you are doubtless aware, Edward is in the process of helping to organize a memorial service for his friend Jennifer Dawson, who passed away at the end of April. This will require his full attention for the immediate future since there are many arrangements yet to be made and a very limited time frame in which to see to their completion. In the interest of keeping this blog up and running, he’s called me in as a pinch-hitter to do a few posts and keep members of his loyal audience — whose participation on this site has been greatly appreciated by him since he began this enterprise, and a particular comfort to him in the past few weeks — entertained in his absence.

I’m no Edward Copeland, but I’ll do my best to keep things interesting. By the time the rightful proprietor of this site is ready to take back the reigns, I expect he will find it necessary to call upon all his friends to circle the wagons and help wrest control away from the monster he’s created. I’m feeling drunk with power even as I write this. Be afraid, Copeland….be very afraid….



Nothing but Reruns From Here on Out

By Josh R
While I’m aware that this is technically a film site, recent posts by Edward have expanded the range of topics to include television. This a particularly timely occurrence since the current season is now in the process of drawing to a close, providing me with an opportunity to recap two of the shows I’ve remained slavishly faithful to throughout the year, and judge the level of success with which they met their objectives.

Sounds scary, no? Well, it is, kind of, since I can be very hard to please…this is why my therapist thinks I have a hard time sustaining relationships. Which I’m not sure is entirely true — I don’t feel I have a hard time sustaining relationships. Which is why my therapist and I have since parted ways (ba-dum-dum). What was the topic again? Oh, right, television. I’ll bestow praise where I feel it is warranted, but mostly, I’m just gonna get all bitchy about the stuff that let me down. In other words, it’s slice-and-dice time, kids, because this viewer (of the much sought-after 18-to-39 demographic) has a few axes to grind.

I’m going to start with ABC’s Lost, because it’s probably the show that has disappointed me the most this past year. After an auspicious inaugural season, the show now seems to be living up to its title in ways its creators probably never intended. Now, I still like it, and I’m even looking forward to tonight’s season finale in the vain hope that it may actually answer some questions — something last year’s finale blissfully neglected to do — but I ain’t holding out for any miracles.

Lost is one of the most ambitious shows on television, and also one of the most frustrating. The cast is, with very few exceptions, capable and engaging, featuring several standouts who have miraculously been able to lend some credibility to the proceedings in spite of how self-contradictory most of the information about their characters has been (some cast members, including Terry O’Quinn, have complained about how drastically their characters have been retooled from last season to this). The real problem is the show’s lack of direction — it juggles a jillion disparate plot points and only follows through on a handful of them, leaving confusion in its wake. I call this Polar Bear syndrome, in reference to the furry white animal that was seen on the island last season, never explained, and has barely been referenced since. I think the entire polar bear community shares my indignation at the show’s failure to address this matter in some kind of satisfying way.

The show’s legions of fans speculate endlessly about what The Big Secret of the Island is — in other words, what the show is actually about. Some insist that the Lostaways all died in the plane crash and are in some form of tikki-hut Purgatory. I don’t really subscribe to this theory, since I can’t quite wrap my mind around the idea of old Mama Cass records being made available to people in the afterlife — and certainly not in hell, unless said recording features duets with anyone from the Gibb family. Others feel that the characters are all guinea pigs in some sort of hideous government experiment engineered to study human reaction to sinister yet absurd circumstances, which is sometimes how I feel when I watch MSNBC for any long stretch of time. Giving credence to this notion is the fact the gang has now uncovered an ever-growing number of sophisticated underground complexes equipped with all kinds of sinister gadgetry. The “hatches,” as they’re called, have been popping up left and right this year with an alarming degree of frequency — the place is starting to look like Battlestar Galactica (so far, the only hatch that hasn’t shown up on this island is Richard Hatch, to whom I’m sure we’d all like to wish the best of luck during his stretch in stir). Still others think that the entire Island Adventure is all one big hallucination — sort of like the infamous Dallas season which apparently all existed in Victoria Principal’s mind.

Personally, I have my own theory — that the writers have no idea what the hell they’re doing. The more I watch, the more convinced I am that no one involved ever bothered to sort out what the Big Concept was before they started, and now they’re just throwing an increasing number of red herrings our way to distract us from the fact that they haven’t the foggiest how they’re going to tie everything together. The show has its share of pleasures, but it’s rudderless — it lacks any sense of direction because the creative team doesn’t seem to know where the ultimate destination should be, and aren’t quite sure how to reconcile everything they’ve done up to this point. Maybe I’m wrong — maybe there is some master plan that’s slowly being revealed to us step by mind-numbing step. But I wish it would make itself manifest soon, since the entire enterprise is beginning to look like a case of The Emperor not having any clothing.

I’d also like to tackle another ABC show in its sophomore year, that deliriously pulpy phenom known as Desperate Housewives. Some critics allege that the show has been experiencing a sophomore slump. Nonsense — it was inevitable that in the face of so much success, the critics would get the itch to tear down what they’d spent all of last year building up. If it were a moderate success in need of some attention instead of a pop cultural juggernaut, no one would be griping right now. True, this year’s “mystery” storyline, involving the underused Alfre Woodward as a smooth suburban matron who plays the piano beautifully while keeping her special needs son locked up in the basement, has been something of a dud, at least compared to the Mary Alice suicide mystery that supplied last year’s story arc. But overall, I think the women of Wisteria Lane have held up pretty darn well.

Felicity Huffman’s Emmy win last year might have been a tad generous, but she’s more than justified it this year with character’s return to the workplace, applying her hard-earned parenting skills and matching talent for manipulation to navigating the treacherous waters of corporate America. No matter how ridiculous the circumstances that find her speed-eating raw bacon to put an end to puerile office “dare” challenges, or having hysterically uninhibited chatroom sex with the boss’s wife, Huffman makes it as believable as it is riotously funny. Teri Hatcher’s talent for slapstick continues to be used to good advantage, and her “I love Mike…Mike is Love!” routine while heavily anesthetized on a hospital table before undergoing surgery (to the obvious displeasure of her new boyfriend, who also happens to be her surgeon — “let’s cut this bitch open”) is an instant classic. Eva Longoria, who seemed to be last season’s weak link, has become a genuine asset to the show, displaying a genuine comic spark and a wicked way with a one-liner that was only beginning to emerge in the latter stages of season one. She’s handled all her material extremely well, although her epic brawl with the nun who has designs on her husband — which would, of course, take place close to an altar with several lit candles on it — had me rolling on the floor.

So now let’s talk about Marcia Cross — I loved the brazen campiness of her work on Melrose Place, but in this context, I have some issues with her (this role has considerably more dimension than crazy Nurse Kimberly, and exposes some of her limitations as an actress). The one thing that I haven’t liked about this season — and it’s actually something that really bothers me — is the way the Bree-Andrew storyline has developed. I mean, it’s funny and well-written and all, but do we really need an evil gay character on television in this day and age? Unless you’re Rick Santorum, and you feel there should be an entire channel devoted to the demonization of gay people?

OK, some of you will say that Andrew isn’t bad, he’s just misunderstood. But in the space of one season, Andrew’s ongoing vendetta against his mother has taken some incredibly ugly turns that leave a bitter aftertaste. I was uncomfortable when he petitioned the court for emancipation, threatening mommy with false allegations of sexual abuse, if she didn’t free up his trust fund so he could buy a fly SUV. But seducing and bedding his mother’s sex addict boyfriend as a means of ruining her life is taking things a wee bit too far. I’ve spoken with the ghost of Jacqueline Susann, and she thinks it was taking things a bit too far. The show’s writers have made some half-hearted attempts to convince us that Andrew is really hurting on the inside, but Shawn Pyfrom (who is excellent) enacts all of Andrew’s dastardly doings with such gleeful malevolence that it makes Patty McCormack’s pig-tailed rottenness in The Bad Seed look like a mild tantrum by comparison. The thing that gets me is that series creator Marc Cherry is, in fact, gay — you would assume he’d be a bit more aware of exactly what he’s doing, which is basically lending credence to the fundamentalist assertion that homosexuality is something to be attributed to lack of moral character.

There are other shows in my repertoire, but those are the two that probably provide the strongest basis for spirited discussion. I’ve been delighted with My Name is Earl all season long, and have nothing to say about it since I have nothing bad to say about it — although you’ll hear plenty of bellyaching on my part if Jaime Pressly isn’t nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Emmy this fall. I flit in and out of The O.C., mainly to marvel at Ben McKenzie’supper arms and to solve the riddle of where Mischa Barton’s talent has gone since she made Lawn Dogs and Pups (I suspect its disappearance has something to do with insufficient calorie intake). I tolerate the sweet-toothed preciousness of Gilmore Girls for the welcome injections of vinegar supplied by the show’s MVP, Kelly Bishop, playing the kind of imperious, highly-strung socialite who’d give Lee Radziwill night sweats. I often wish that someone would put together a spin-off where Bishop’s Emily Gilmore meets up with Jessica Walter’s Lucille Bluth from the now-defunct Arrested Development to form a latter-day Mame-and-Vera-Charles act — they could open up a pita stand in Santa Monica or something. After neglecting it all season long, I’ve watched the last few episodes of the ingenious NBC series The Office, which are enough to whet my appetite for next year and the DVD release of the season that’s just concluded.

How do you think your favorite shows have fared this past year? Did they live up to your expectations? Which performances and storylines stood out for you, and which ones left you feeling underwhelmed? Are there any regular characters you’d like to see plummet down an elevator shaft next year, or be otherwise mangled in some appropriately hideous fashion? Be specific — like Emperor Palpatine in the final showdown from Return of the Jedi, your wrath only serves to increase my power.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006


Comfort media

By Edward Copeland
A while back, I wrote about films you could watch over and over again, but this post takes a bit of a different angle and, in fact, involves television more than film. Over the past two weeks, I've sought out things that I could stare at mindlessly and, occasionally, actually pay attention to. I was pleased to see I was able to watch The Sopranos and keep up with more interest than I expected, though my mind would tend to wander through Big Love, especially since I found it hard to get its theme song, The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" out of my head once I heard it.

Other shows did provide a respite. If I wake up early in the morning around 6 a.m., my habit is to flip on Imus or CNN just to see what's going on, but I've been a lot more disinterested than usual of late so I can't tell you how pleased I was to find that FX's reruns of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer were showing my favorite season, Season 3, and really Joss Whedon's series in its own way was the most effective TV tonic I could find. Nothing pleases me more, at least in the past couple of weeks, than watching Harry Groener's gleefully polite and evil Mayor Wilkins and the brief appearance of Vampire Willow from the alternate universe. Eliza Dushku as Faith is a plus as well.

Sitcoms helped too, even ones that I was never that huge a fan of in the first place, but Lifetime's early morning reruns of The Golden Girls were a godsend. At the other end of the clock, Nick at Nite was mercifully still in the watchable seasons of Roseanne and TV Land was in the Diane years at Cheers, that is when either network didn't break up their schedule for their crappy original programming.

I still watched The Daily Show and The Colbert Report regularly as always, but they didn't please me the way they usually do. Scrubs and My Name Is Earl held up a bit better.

I did make attempts at watching some movies as well. I began watching David Lean's Hobson's Choice before everything changed. but by the time I finished it, I can't really say that I could recall much about it — and I'm sure it's not the movie's fault. I could never get through part two of HBO's Elizabeth I since its original airing kept being interrupted by stupid tornado warnings (Hey — that's why I watch HBO — to avoid interruptions like that. Just leave me in peace). This week, I finally watched the Green Cine disc of 1947's Kiss of Death which had been gathering dust upon my DVD player. I have to say I was disappointed, but again, I don't know if it's the movie's fault. Sure, Richard Widmark is fun, but Victor Mature is a stiff and I imagine I would have felt that way no matter when I watched it.

My next Green Cine rental is Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. We'll see how that goes, but my mind is tending to wander a lot more than usual because I have so many things on my mind that I have to get done.

I guess there isn't really a point to this post. I'm really just trying to jump-start my writing so I can actually get down to writing a non-blog story that I really am afraid to write because it will make everything feel more real.

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Saturday, May 06, 2006


And the winners are...

BLOGGER'S NOTE: Here are links to the other posts related to this survey: Number of ballots on which each film appeared, the rankings below the Top 20, the films that didn't get any votes and my 10 best ballot.

Once again, thanks to everyone who participated in this survey. We more than topped than 107 ballots for the worst best picture survey, finishing with 129 ballots. Thanks to you all. Whenever I knew the blogs or Web sites for the commenters, I included the links. If I mess any of them up or didn't include others, please either e-mail me or post in comments, and I'll fix them later.

When I launched this survey, I figured it would be easier to pick the 10 best because there was a much more limited pool to choose from, though many complained that it was harder to pick 10 good ones than 10 bad ones, though I think my inclination was right, since the top vote-getters showed up time and time again, ending with a huge vote drop in points from about No. 22 down to the lowest ones. A. Horbal wrote, "These films were also popular and largely uncontroversial. They had a broad base of support in the Academy, filled with representatives of a Hollywood that makes me uncomfortable." "The list of 78 winners frequently seems to go out of its way to avoid greatness, doesn't it? Many of them are deadly in their smooth competence and noble intentions, and a few are just plain bad. Others are fine enough films that are simply outclassed by other, maybe less pretentious films that were released in the same years. Overall, the list constantly reminds me of Pauline Kael's withering words: "Films Of Which The Industry Can Be Proud," dlfoil wrote. Whereas, Michael J.W. Stickings took an opposite position, writing, "Generally, what I found upon looking over the list again is how many solid Best Picture winners there were. I guess I'd call them ***1/2 star films." Anne Thompson, deputy film editor for The Hollywood Reporter, found this survey almost unnecessary, writing "Perhaps my reluctance to do this list comes from the lack of necessity for it. These films are so famous and popular that they don't need any help. And besides, they are resolutely mainstream, finally. The critic's impulse is to look for the diamond in the rough, to proclaim the marginal movie. Here there are no marginal movies. The great ones have been hailed as great for decades already!"

I think there will be little suspense over what the top two will be, but I'm counting them down backward anyway.

20. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (103 points)

"An amazing piece of film art. This film will have to be the example of how to take your imagination and use the tools that have been given you to make those images come to life. ... This is what I thought and hoped George Lucas would have strived for with Episode III of his Star Wars saga. Imagine Episode III with all the heart and soul and epic splendor of Return of the King. It makes me weep," Salvador Gomez wrote. Dennis Cozzalio also has George Lucas on his mind when he wrote, "Peter Jackson's feat of bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's novels to the screen with abundant integrity and vision, sustaining that integrity and vision over three films, and adding such overwhelming sorrow, yearning and, ultimately, joy to the third part is the kind of expansion of Lean's epic filmmaking into a fantasy realm that must still give George Lucas fits of envy and nightmares of what could have been." Many of the others who cast votes for Return of the King admitted that it was more personal choice than a reflection of its status among the 78 winners. Heather Kinion said, "Great movie, but not really great enough to top my list. Only snuck into the top ten because I have the most affection for it out of my other cusp picks." "This is where my list becomes a list of movies I like, but don't necessarily love. I very much enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have seen the trilogy several times, and will undoubtedly see the trilogy several more times," Galen Sparlin wrote. Todd echoed the sentiments when he says the movie is "a personal choice. Removed from the excitement and heat of the years in which it was made, one can see that the LOTR trilogy has its weaknesses, but as a whole, I still think it holds together. It also gave brief hope that AMPAS could reward work in genres it wasn't as fond of. Alas." Griftdrift recognized that ROTK's win was more for the trilogy as a whole, writing that it's "really a lifetime achievement award. Fellowship was the better movie." Billy Black even admitted that the movie may not stand the time, saying, "In 10 years, I may be embarrassed for adding this; but it's a hell of a lot better than A Beautiful Mind or Gladiator."

19. The Bridge on the River Kwai (110 points)

Of the two David Lean epics to win best picture, each side seems to have its advocates, though both films appeared on some lists. "Most people seem to prefer Lawrence of Arabia to this earlier David Lean epic. Lawrence is a magnificent movie, but the Siren gives the edge to The Bridge, for its clearer and more pungent characterizations, its biting antiwar and anti-imperialist message and its satiric edge," Campaspe wrote. Mr. Middlebrow concurred: "Most people tend to favor Lawrence of Arabia over this, but it's my favorite David Lean film ... it holds up well to repeated viewings and never feels dated or quaint. I'm always awestruck by Alec Guinness' performance and the fine line he walks between honor and madness. As soon as my wife deems it appropriate, I plan to watch it with my son and, I hope, show him what it means to have principles, a code. There are very few films that put those abstract ideas into such compelling, wholly authentic action and manage to be so sublimely entertaining at the same time." John Ross followed the same line, writing that "I'm amazed that so many people think Lawrence of Arabia, great as it is, is better. Almost everybody acknowledges that both movies suffer a bit when their main characters (Alec Guinness here and Peter O'Toole in Lawrence) are off-screen, but I'm real confused by those who would rather watch Guinness and Anthony Quinn play Arabs than William Holden play an American." Daniel Fienberg prefers it on a more visceral level: "It's not really a war movie at all. It's a pure action movie. Action movies don't win Oscars. How did this one? It's almost enough to justify the fact that The Great Escape — perhaps the best action movie ever made — only received one nomination, for editing. Perhaps it isn't too late to get a retroactive Oscar of some sort for Die Hard?" Others are pithier with their love for Kwai. "Thrilling and powerful depiction of the death march!" Mike James wrote. "Stirring and suspenseful, with great acting and a great score," Louis P. said.

18. West Side Story (126 points)

After all the abuse heaped on musicals in the worst best picture survey, I was pleasantly surprised to see at least one musical have enough fans to make the top 20 — and having Stephen Sondheim write your lyrics never hurts. "Yes, it may be reviled by the sizeable segment of the population that despises musicals, but I love musicals and this is a great musical," Allison Stombaugh wrote. "It's chock full of talent, including several triple threats (I'm looking right at you Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn). The choreography is perfection. More than a great musical, it's a great film." Salvador Gomez said, "I am a sucker for a good musical. I'm an even bigger sucker when it is done with style and finesse. I remember taking in this film when there was a move to save the old Golden Gate movie palace in East Los Angeles. I had seen it several times on TV but this was the first time I had the joy to see it on a wide screen since it was shot on Panavision 65mm cameras and presented in 70mm." Mike James defended it as well saying, "Some people may think it's corny! But this film still packs a punch with it's stunning choreography!" Al Weisel summed it up with the name of four principals involved in the musical: "Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins. The greatest American musical." "Maybe the most influential movie musical ever, even if they did miscast Richard Beymer and dub some of the songs," Anne Thompson wrote. Still, other fans couldn't bring themselves to put the movie on their ballot. Jennifer Dawson said, "I dithered a long time over the order, I guess I'll never be satisfied. My beloved West Side Story got the axe. Damn you Beymer!"

17. The Silence of the Lambs (136 points)

While I like Silence a lot, I was surprised by its strong showing, mainly because I thought by this point its power had been dissipated by Anthony Hopkins basically turning Lecter into serial killer as stand-up comic in subsequent films, but its admirers are still ardent. "A guilty pleasure, but there's a lot that I love about this film — the acting, the direction, the pacing, the editing...The characters are sharply drawn, with a solid sense of background and motivation that's absent (or taken to caricature) in Harris' other work," Tuwa Baab wrote. Ben said it is an "incredibly well crafted thriller. Everything about the film is on point, the film rolls along to its terrifying finale like a well oiled machine. Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins both deliver great performance. Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter is one of the cinema's all-time great bad guys." Steve Cox is even more effusive in his praise: "The one great film in the mass of middlebrow OKness in the list of winners since Kramer vs. Kramer. The initial scene with Starling interviewing Lecter is as riveting as any on film." How high it landed on his list surprised That Little Round-Headed Boy who wrote, "I'm surprised this is so high on my list, but maybe I shouldn't be. I like genre pictures, and so does everybody, but we don't sufficiently reward the movies we like to pop in the machine, kick back and watch repeatedly." Still, it's the suspense that won many over like Peter Nellhaus who wrote, "Even after watching it in a theater all the way through, the sense of dread is still overwhelming in repeated viewings." The film put such a chill in Heather Kinion that she was afraid to rank it higher: "I just don't like to be scared enough for this to be any higher on my list. That it got on at all should just show how good it is."

16. Midnight Cowboy (137 points)

Ross Ruediger wanted to write something about Midnight Cowboy, but he never got one to me, so I hope he drops in to put his contribution in the comments. In the meantime, we have Ronny Brown who wrote, "Midnight Cowboy was light years ahead of its time and my pick for most underrated best picture. Hands down Dustin Hoffman's best film." Dusty agrees about Hoffman, writing "Another risky choice. My favorite part of this movie is Dustin Hoffman, whose work here is nearly as perfect as in Tootsie. Let's forget about Kramer V. Kramer (except for Meryl) and Rain Man (no exceptions), for which the man received his two Oscars." Ben admires the movie for its "innovative use of editing. One of the most formally interesting films to have won an Oscar for best picture." When Daniel Fienberg recently revisited the film, "Yeah, it's dated, but watching the newly released double-disc DVD a couple weeks ago, I was surprised at how well it held up." Mitchell has his own reasons for loving Midnight Cowboy: "Gleefully bleak, iconic acting and any movie with Sylvia Miles AND Brenda Vaccaro gets my vote."

15. The Best Years of Our Lives (139 points)

Even though it didn't make my own list, I was pleased to see William Wyler's 1946 winner land this high. "More than a valentine to returning servicemen, this is arguably one of Hollywood's first and only epic domestic melodramas, a film that depicts men and women existing at every layer of their society (a small town) and struggling to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of war," Matt Zoller Seitz wrote. Campaspe agrees, writing that it is a "peerless portrait of American family life. Not a weak performance in the movie. Full of moments to treasure, such as Myrna Loy's wordless reaction when she finally sees her husband, or Fredric March, contrasting a prewar picture of himself with the image in the mirror. And there's Harold Russell's homecoming to his family and his "swell girl" Wilma, as moving a scene as any Wyler ever filmed — and the prelude, as Dana Andrews watches Russell walk away and says sadly, "I hope Wilma is a swell girl." Julie Winklepleck hit on many of the same points when she wrote: "Sentimental, perhaps, but an examination not only of re-entry after surviving the war, but of the displacement we all feel and the struggles we have to fit in and find our place in the world. The scene where the fiance comes into the double amputee's room at night to prove that she can handle the changes in his life...that's love." Wagstaff's affection for the film dates back to childhood. "As a kid, I fell in love with this movie right at the beginning, with its long takes of our returning heroes looking out the front of a B-17 as it flies over the home they've been homesick for: Boone City. The audience might get homesick for the movies' portrait of Anywhere, U.S.A. There's great deep-focus camerawork from Gregg Toland, and William Wyler stuffs the screen with wonderful details. I liked the folks in this movie, and the bottom line is I believed it. Sure, this wasn't the whole story after the war (and how could it be?) but with Best Years a whole swath of Americana comes to life." Jennifer Dawson summed it up much more simply: "I'm just going to be an old person now and say they don't make 'em like this anymore."

14. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (178 points)

Even though it showed up on a lot of lists, very few people had much to say about Milos Forman's adaptation of Ken Kesey's controversial novel. "Jack Nicholson playing within his range, it may not be like the book, but it is still damn good," Joe Cox wrote. Michael Healey said, "Not in the same league as the rest of these films (on his list), but Jack Nicholson's iconic performance is strong enough — for me at least — to overshadow Cuckoo's Nest's occasional longueurs and terrible score." However, Barnaby Haszard Morris had no difficulty in spelling out his reasons why it made his 10 best: "Most of the films on (my) list had all aspects of the production click into place to produce something great. This is my favorite of them, a true masterclass in film storytelling. It never fails to satisfy me, to move me. It gave rise to my deeply felt notion that stripping a film back to its base elements — story and character — is paramount. Nail those two, and you've got a great movie. This is more than a great movie, though; it's a definitive movie, a movie that all other movies aspire to."

13. Gone With the Wind (187 points)

67 years after its release, Gone With the Wind is still a sensation. Jennifer Dawson wrote, "Not a fashionable choice, for a number of reasons I suppose. First, there are the racial politics, which are considerably toned down from the book's abominable views on slavery and emancipation. In spite of the source material, though, the movie in fact ended up featuring some of the few three dimensional African-American characters found in movies in the late '30s. Love ya Hattie. Second, the fact that the movie had three directors leaves it an orphan in the world of the auteur ... but of course GWTW had an auteur, and his name was David O Selznick. It's an irresistible epic that manages to be a tragedy and a comedy at the same time. It clocks in at 3 hours and 45 minutes and it moves along at such a clip you barely notice the length." Anne Thompson simply calls it, "The most satisfying historic romance of all time." For Ellen O'Neill, it is "the cinematic embodiment of the word classic. It is also a touchstone — whenever meeting someone, if they think the idea of comparing Titanic to GWTW makes even the slightest bit of sense, then no further conversation is possible. GWTW is very useful that way." John Ross can relate the movie to events today, writing "If Paul Wolfowitz had remembered the fate of the Yankee soldier who stumbles into Tara at a moment when it appears to be occupied only by two helpless women, he might not have been quite so sanguine about the mindset likely to be encountered by soldiers of occupying forces in strange lands, however just or unjust their cause and/or behavior." Still, for many the movie is all about Scarlett and Vivien Leigh. "Feminist before the term "feminist" existed; Scarlett O'Hara is the most interesting female protagonist in film history," Adam Bonin wrote. "Analyze the movie all you want, criticize it to pieces, but Vivien Leigh and her magnificent portrayal of Scarlett O'Hara has blinded me from whatever negative things "critics" like to say about this movie," LA PARADISE said. Still, for Matt Zoller Seitz, it is the movie as a whole: "With each passing year, it becomes less politically correct to admit liking this movie. The slave characters were more complex than others seen up to that point, yet still stereotypical, and the unabashed nostalgia for antebellum culture sticks in the craw. But contemporary attitudes are a poor yardstick for judging artistic merit. Scene for scene, minute for minute, line for line, this is 1930s Hollywood at its aesthetic and technical peak. Few American films, before or since, are as gorgeous."

12. Amadeus (203 points)

Let's hear it for Salieri, the patron saint of mediocrity. That guy Mozart ain't much of a slouch either. Josh Flower wrote, "Forman frames the whole thing as one big joke on poor Salieri, which would be awfully mean if it wasn't such a good joke." For Sheila O'Malley, the movie proves that "there is such a thing as a perfect movie, that one has got to be on the list. Every scene, the way the score is integrated ... it's another character in the film (which is appropriate). Mozart's music is not used as a set piece, or as background. The way it is utilized shows us that this stuff is IN HIS HEAD. It is the actors who are able to show us the flaws, the darkness, the capacity for cruelty, the struggle — who really move me, who really insinuate themselves into my consciousness. They're the ones who can actually teach me things, who can reveal me to myself. ... Nobody embodies that better than F. Murray Abraham as Salieri. It's breathtaking. And he reveals a truth which is unpleasant, something most of us don't want to hear. And yet it's really that truth, that truth within all of us, that makes us most human. It's painful. It really is. And yet also — within it — is beauty. Redemption." Mr. Middlebrow admires "the way that it breathes life into the otherwise flat, abstract history of dead, European white men and makes the whole enterprise so sublimely worthwhile." Julie Winklepleck said the movie substitutes for other substances, writing "This movie made me high, like why do drugs when we have music like Mozart gave the world?" Leave it to Matt Zoller Seitz though to come up with the most hysterical analogy for the film when he wrote, "In its portrait of cagey mediocrity outmanuevering and destroying genius, it's inadvertently the best explanation of Oscar politics that the industry has ever come up with."

11. Unforgiven (213 points)
Clint Eastwood's film prompted some of the most passionate responses from voters, even though it didn't quite make the top 10 in the end. Josh Flower wrote, "Unforgiven is a tough-love corrective to about sixty years of Hollywood mythologizing. An old man limps back to his old ways and then away from them again, not redeemed, not a hero or a villain, and soon to fade from memory. Sure, it ultimately only leaves one myth in place of another, but that's all history is anyway, and Eastwood's surly pragmatism keeps it close enough to the ground that the mud and the shit are never too far from sight." Galen Sparlin resisted the film because of his past impressions of Eastwood. "Ten years passed between the time Clint Eastwood accepted his Oscars and when I saw this film. I grew up not caring for the Clint Eastwood mystique. Dirty Harry? Bleh. My generation was not force fed Westerns. John Wayne? Bleh. Then, my buddy loaned me a worn copy of Unforgiven on VHS. Through the grainy picture and the garbled sound, the wonder of this film was obvious." Dennis Cozzalio also sees the film as Eastwood commenting on his own work: "A summing up of and engagement with the dark underbelly of not only Clint Eastwood's career, but also with the nature of American life and history as well. The actor/director is likely never to make another western, but Unforgiven is such a rich, evocative, chilling and morose experience that it really does feel like the last necessary word on the subject, at least from this filmmaker. Campaspe sees it as "a grimmer and more violent pendant to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Like its predecessor, this movie asks the audience to look at how we know what we think we know about our heroes and our history." For Joe Cox, "Clint Eastwood boils the Western down to its barest bones and makes a movie about man's inability to change. I know a lot of people who disagree with me, but this is my favorite movie in my favorite genre. It was so spare, so understated, as though Eastwood, in the pantheon of Western heroes was so familiar with it that he knew exactly what to leave out." Kelley Baskerville thinks Unforgiven should be the final word on the genre: "After Unforgiven, there doesn't really need to be another western since the film made a point of tearing down the western archetypes built up for several decades."

10. On the Waterfront (233 points)

Josh R ranked this one higher than he otherwise would have for fear that it might not get its due over lingering resentment toward Elia Kazan's actions at the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in the 1950s. He needn't have worried, as there were more voters who felt the Academy was correct in honoring the film than Amy Madigan and Nick Nolte, et al., who insist on taking their grudge against Kazan out on his art. "I'm putting this higher than it should be because I sense it needs my help (and some defense), whereas the films below it do not," Josh R wrote. "There are those who would criticize Elia Kazan's definitive work as an ill-considered exercise in McCarthyist propaganda, and they wouldn't be wrong — but to limit the conversation to the film's political underpinnings would be to overlook its genuine merits as a cinematic work of art. Putting aside Kazan's rationalization of his betrayal of friends and colleagues before the House Un-American Activities Committee (something which is admittedly hard to separate from one's feelings about the film itself), On the Waterfront is the best and the most compelling example of the new realism its writer-director helped to pioneer. Expertly crafted and indelibly performed, it deserves to be remembered for more than its politics — and even its detractors can't deny the power of the young Marlon Brando, showing what breathtakingly simple effects he was capable of before eccentricity and ennui overtook his talent." Indeed, those who voted and comment on the movie, almost always came back to Brando. "Brando's gives one of the great performances of all time, of course, but Kazan deserves a lot more credit than he often gets nowadays," Al Weisel wrote. Mike Phillips shared similar thoughts: "The motive doesn't ruin the movie for me. I know Kazan made it as a response to those who attacked him for naming names to HUAC, but he also ended up making one of the best films ever made. Brando continued to redefine acting, and Kazan, one of the best directors ever, was never better than he was here." "Politics aside, Brando delivers one of the most influential performances of all time," Ben wrote. Even those who recognize problems with the film like Matt Zoller Seitz can't help but praise it in the end: "Truth be told, Marlon Brando's lead performance has held up better than the work of his peers (except co-star Eva Marie Saint, who's just right) and the movie's problematic for a lot of reasons, including the too-obvious Christ imagery and the sense that this is, in the end, a veiled explanation of why director Elia Kazan named names before the House Un-American Activities Committee, but that's all context, and if you're not aware of it, nothing matters but Terry's moral struggle, romantic aspirations and emotional growth. I've seen this movie probably 50 times, more than any other film on the Best Picture list. There are better movies, but few that mean as much to me." Sheila O'Malley just finds a more emotional reaction to the movie: "Even just saying the name of this movie gives me the chills. I watch it now, and am still amazed at its relevance and at the power and timelessness of the acting."

9. It Happened One Night (242 points)

There is no Wall of Jericho separating fans from Frank Capra's classic comedy. "Colbert and Gable sizzle!" Heather Kinion wrote. "Maybe the slapstick high-jinks and the silly plot don't stand the test of time too well, but I would rather watch this movie again then most of the tripe trotted out as 'romantic comedy' since I've been alive." Odienator believes one scene alone earns the movie's place on his list: "This belongs here if only for the scene where Claudette Colbert literally stops traffic." John Ross sees a long trail of the film's influence: "The template for all romantic comedy from then to now. Only Preston Sturges at the top of his game and His Girl Friday have equaled it." Mr. Middlebrow recalls the film as his "introduction to screwball comedies, Frank Capra and Claudette Colbert. Needless to say, I was immediately smitten; as a bonus, I also got a whole new appreciation for Clark Gable, whom I'd known up to that point only as Rhett Butler. Pure joy, this brilliance never fades." Wagstaff similarly finds magic: "I have nothing to add that hasn't already been said about the laughs, the romance, and the charisma of its stars. I will add that this ain't no studio-bound production. This is a movie that gets out and sees some country. Much of it now works as docudrama. I love its sketch of the roadside sleeping cabins, with weary travelers standing in line to use the bathhouse. Perfect. A funny, sexy gem that is very modern in its pacing." Josh R admits it's not his favorite example of screwball comedy, but he loves it nonetheless: "Some have called it the crowning achievement in the oeuvre of screwball comedy, though in truth, it isn't as screwy nor as ballsy as the work of Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges. That said, it's hard not to fall in love with Frank Capra's lightest and most charming film. Now that Basic Instinct 2 is upon us (as if we needed any more proof of the impending apocalypse), it might do well for modern filmmakers to recall that Claudette Colbert managed to be sexier and more risque just by raising her skirt than Sharon Stone ever did by lifting it over her head." That Little Round-Headed Boy springs to the defense of the comic genre as a whole: "This is a great American movie, and one of Oscar's rare moments of lucidity. In general, Oscar and critics and some bloggers are just plain wrong in their theory that drama is deeper and more meaningful than comedy. I think the gossamer light step or totally bonkers touch of a perfect comedy is harder to achieve than a drama set on an epic scale with a vast cast of extras. I'm just as moved by Groucho Marx as I am by David Lean, and I do not understand why I have to choose one over the other." Dennis Cozzalio also points out how the film has usurped the definition of those fabled walls: "Unless you're a Sunday school teacher, you're more likely to think of this movie than the Old Testament if someone mentions the walls of Jericho. Seventy-two years later, whenever someone mentions great comedies, we're still thinking of this one." Sheila O'Malley wrote, "If you want to see what my friend Mitchell would call 'sheer liquid joy' — rent this movie." I'll wrap this one up by letting Mitchell speak for himself: "A movie that is 72 yrs old and is still funnier than most of the crap that passes for comedy these days is surely one of the best of the best."

8. Schindler's List (244 points)

"Many films have been made about the Holocaust, but this is the true masterpiece," Allison Stombaugh wrote. "It's heart-wrenching, but also entertaining. I feel slightly idiotic describing a Holocaust film with such a flippant word as "entertaining," but it was. Nothing in Spielberg's long and distinguished career should give him as much pride as this film." That Little Round-Headed Boy wrote, "A great, tragic, depressing, moving, spiritual, important movie. Spielberg's heart and soul is in this one, and it's impossible not to be swept up by its emotional tide." Many fans acknowledge the movie's minuses, but for them the strengths outweigh the weaknesses. "If there are one or two clunky notes in the final minutes, they can't really spoil what is otherwise a perfect movie up to that point," Jennifer Dawson wrote. Josh R also had qualms: "As much as I appreciated it, when I first saw the film, I had a serious reservation: There was then, as there is now, something slightly exploitive in depicting the horrors of The Holocaust in extremely graphic detail as a demonstration of a filmmaker's personal courage (and there was something very self-congratulatory about the way Spielberg spoke about this aspect of the film when he was promoting and accepting awards for it). But there's no arguing with the fact that Schindler's List is groundbreaking in its treatment of the 20th Century's greatest tragedy, and no denying the impact that it has when you're watching it. It's an incredible accomplishment, and one which will stand for many years to come." In the end, it's the film's emotional reaction that landed it on so many lists. "Rare is it that I am moved deep to the core. I love black and white and Spielberg made it horrifyingly beautiful. It recalls Yeats' 'terrible beauty,'" Griftdrift wrote. Odienator said the movie "tore at my soul the way Roots did. Spielberg's best movie continues to haunt years after I first saw it." Still, Galen Sparlin finds hope in the movie's pain: "Such a powerful, moving story. As dark and bleak as this movie can be, it also acts as a mirror of possibilities for hope — sometimes someone can stand up against injustice even with the risk of harm coming to oneself." However, I think Louis P. summed everything up with a single sentence: "One of the few movies I’ve loved but don’t want to see again."

7. The Apartment (283 points)

"This is my dead favorite movie on this list because it truly has everything — it's funny, it's touching, it deals with the very serious topic of infidelity from both sides of the issue in a realistic way that doesn't pull any punches or romanticize. It also has an evil Fred MacMurray! The original Absent-Minded Professor and the dad from 'My Three Sons' as a heartless bastard!" Barbara Schwartz Brus wrote. "I cried when I first saw this. This movie also gave me one of my favorite phrases: 'That's the way it crumbles, cookiewise.'" Campaspe sees beyond the surface of the film's story: "Next to The Crowd (a clear influence), the Wilder movie is the premier meditation on surviving as a cog in the capitalist machinery, a theme that is notably underexplored in American film. Office Space can't hold a candle to the honesty and wit of this movie." John Ross also finds more than meets the eye in the movie: "The plot revolves around Shirley MacLaine's willingness to attempt suicide over being rejected by a guy who won't leave his wife. Funny thing is, the guy's such a snake we can't figure out why his wife hasn't left HIM. It doesn't make any sense until you remember what that great movie critic, Henry Kissinger, once said: Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. And power is the thing MacLaine ends up having (not wanting) to trade in for love. Once you realize that, boy is it disturbing." Michael Healey even finds Hitchcockian echoes: "One of the greatest of all love stories, a Notorious set in the world of wage slaves. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's script moves from hilarity to despair and back again in seconds — when it isn't dishing out both emotions at once, that is." Josh Flower definitely believes the movie has earned its high spot: "The Apartment is in the conversation for having the most well earned happy ending in film history, with shades of Wilder's earlier Oscar winner, The Lost Weekend. But where the redemption of Ray Milland plays like an all too obvious and crude capitulation to censors, everything about The Apartment's beautifully structured script leads up to those last couple, perfect minutes." Anne Thompson nails the film more succinctly: "Still sharp as a tack; painful and hilarious."

6. Lawrence of Arabia (393 points)

Now, proponents of David Lean's other Oscar-winning epic get their say. "Lawrence of Arabia is the most compelling movie about vision, ambition, and power this side of Citizen Kane," Josh Flower wrote. "Unlike Kane , our hero is thwarted not by his own greed and hubris but by his inability to make people share his vision, or more accurately, believe in it as he believes in it. Talk about frustrating. Tough medicine from a big budget adventure blockbuster." Wagstaff had plenty of praise to add: "Lawrence of Arabia is the ultimate in cinematic teletransportation. I had already fallen in love with it on badly cropped video, but seeing it in glorious 70mm was a true revelation, and I count myself one lucky s.o.b. to have seen it on the big screen twice in Dallas, once at the Castro in San Fran, and a few more times while operating the only 70mm projector in Oklahoma City. Once upon a time, I had to tutor and watch after some preteens. To entertain them, I just ripped off Lawrence and told large chunks of the first half in the first person. Those kids were on the edge of their seats. The sensory experience of Lawrence was so strong that it was easy to tell it like it happened to me." In fact, experiencing this film in a theater figures in many of the comments. "I actually saw this in the movies back in 1975. I said "wow" so many times that my mother told me to shut up. The first movie to astound me with visuals, an astonishment I still feel whenever I watch it," Odienator wrote. Dennis Cozzalio sees the film's scope as key to its hold on moviegoers: "Nine years after the introduction of CinemaScope and nearly a decade of gargantuan productions like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, David Lean fulfilled the promise of the epic scale of motion pictures and the wide-screen image with this rousing, troubling, awe-inspiring adventure. Like most of the films on this list, it has made an imprint on nearly every movie of any measurable scale, regardless of genre, that has been made since." It's more than just the size of the image alone that touches some film lovers. "One of my all-time favorite films and quite possibly the best epic that ever there was. Lean's tendency to make things overblown is grounded by O'Toole's wonderful performance and some of the finest tech work ever put on screen," Todd wrote. Griftdrift concurs: "I am guilty of loving big epic movies about big epic characters. It doesn't get much bigger than David Lean's classic. Combine Peter O'Toole's subtle, tortured portrayal with a supreme supporting ensemble, put them in glorious settings and toss in a war and you have created legend." John Adair added: "It's complex, beautiful, frustrating at times, both epic and deeply personal at once. The exhiliration of the ride into Aqaba remains unmatched by any other Best Picture. The mystery of the central character, knowing everything about him, but nothing at all, is so appealing." While Daniel Fienberg defends the movie against would-be contenders to the epic throne: "The dozens of subsequent epics that undeservedly took the Oscar — your English Patients or Out of Africas do nothing to tarnish this particular winner."

5. Annie Hall (399 points)

Don't knock Annie Hall — it's sex with someone I love — and there is a lot of love out there for Woody Allen's comedy. "I've loved Woody Allen's films for a long time. I saw and loved Sleeper, Play It Again, Sam and Take the Money and Run before I saw Annie Hall, and all of those movies taught me to appreciate silly comedy, Galen Sparlin wrote. "Then Woody made Annie Hall, and I learned it was OK to make the transition from little kid who loved funny movies to become a young man who could appreciate movies with a more serious type of humor." Campaspe can't even fathom people who don't love this movie: "The Siren knows some people don't like this movie, but it's like telling her you don't like ice cream. Doesn't compute. I particularly love Diane Keaton's and Woody Allen's split-screen shrink session when, asked how often they have sex, Keaton blurts 'All the time. Twice a week!' and Allen laments, 'Practically never. Twice a week.'" Some can admit that past resentment of the film stemmed from what it beat at an impressionable time in their lives. "Woody Allen, it’s taken me about 20 years to forgive you for beating out Star Wars, but in that time, through many viewings of both, I’ve come to appreciate that this was one of those rare instances when the Academy got it right. In other words, the best picture for everyone but 12-year-old boys in 1977 was indeed Annie Hall," Mr. Middlebrow wrote. Dennis Cozzalio is thinking along similiar lines: "Because it was such an unlikely choice to best a phenomenon like Star Wars, and because it became itself the unlikely pinnacle of Woody Allen’s connection with an audience (i.e., the real world), this self-conscious, maddening, riotously funny and surprisingly sweet comedy makes the list. When I think of 1977 some 30 years later, I’m much more likely to conjure an image from this movie than of C-3PO or R2-D2, and for that, Woody, despite your output over the past 20, I thank you." For Josh R, the movie is sublime in its appeal: "Just give me Diane Keaton in a clashing vest and tie, fiddling with her hands and stumbling over her la-di-das, and I'm a goner. The film is a valentine to its leading lady, the quirkiest and most endearing of all romantic heroines, and who can blame the filmmaker for waxing sentimental over her charms? Annie Hall may not be the best film Woody Allen ever made, but it's probably the warmest and, in many ways, the most personal."

4. All About Eve (439 points)

For such a bumpy night, All About Eve is sure a helluva smooth ride. "Who writes dialogue like this now?" Wagstaff asks. "I'd say we're no longer worthy. Even today's best practitioners provide only a little fire or some music but never both the Fire and Music that Joseph L. Mankiewicz provided on a regular basis. This is one of the sharpest, most paradigmatic films about theater life, not that I'm in any position to know. And thank god these characters are in the theater, because if you made them all wear little Hitler mustaches and goose-stepped them through the plot, then the rest of the world had better watch out!" The elements are on Matt Zoller Seitz's mind as well: "More a verbal than visual pleasure, but the words have fire and music, and so do the performances. It was made to be quoted." Referring to something Wagstaff wrote in comments, Jennifer Dawson said, "Great performances, great dialogue, can't say much against it. I agree with Wagstaff that it is probably too long but I can't figure out what I'd cut. I wouldn't want to lose a scene from this movie." Al Weisel looks to a quote from another film as the perfect description: "a cookie made of arsenic." Like myself, Odienator admits to admiring George Sanders' character much more than we probably should: "My all time favorite movie. It's brilliant, it's bitchy, and I wish I were Addison DeWitt. I worship at the altar of this movie's script." I'll let Josh R wrap this one up in his inimitable way: "Despite the rarefied air of sophistication it tries to convey, at its heart, All About Eve is just good nasty fun — a juicy roman a clef laced with venom. Abounding with acidic barbs that might have rolled right off the lips of the viper-tongued denizens of the Algonquin Round Table, the film has a gleeful sense of cynicism that's just about infectious. There's so much to revel in: an absorbing storyline bracketed by the best framing device in film history, some of the wittiest, most literate dialogue ever written for the screen, and a gallery of unforgettable characters and performances. Most importantly, it has Bette Davis, offering the most visceral and compelling delineation of the artistic temperament ever captured on film."

3. The Godfather Part II (465 points)

Both halves of Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece (we'll pretend there wasn't a Part III) had its proponents and many listed both, but in the end it wasn't even close as the original clobbered the sequel. In most cases, voters couldn't mention one without the other. Campaspe wrote, "The Godfather movies began our fatuous romanticization of the Mob's vicious criminals, and therefore have a great deal to answer for. (The Siren agrees wholeheartedly with whoever was first to observe that The Godfather shows the Mafia the way they want to think of themselves, but the real Mobsters are the casually homicidal sadists of Goodfellas.) The first Godfather is perhaps more purely entertaining, but it's the second film that shows the escalating costs of violence. When Michael Corleone asks his mother whether it's possible to lose your family (Mr. C's favorite scene), she can't comprehend what he's talking about. It isn't possible, she tells him — but by that time, the audience knows it is not only possible, for Michael it is inevitable." Mr. Middlebrow found it difficult to choose, but prefers the sequel: "However absurd it might be to pick the latter of the two (films), there’s something about it that I find just ever-so-slightly more satisfying than the first. Maybe it’s a preference for De Niro over Brando. Mostly it’s the Michael story and the way Al Pacino delivers lines like “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart!” and “They came into my home. Into my room, where my wife sleeps and my children come to play with their toys.” Matt Zoller Seitz lands on the side of the sequel because of what it asks of the audience: "The equal of the original in every way, but in one respect, more demanding: it's an altogether darker movie about the main character's systematic and sell-willed moral disintegration. In Part 1, Michael breathes new life into the family business; in Part II, he gives his own soul to it." "Lightning in a bottle," is how Dennis Cozzalio characterizes it. "The one film sequel that has done what (arguably) no other film sequel has done — breathed new artistic life into a predecessor that was already considered about as good as it could be and expanded the scope, emotion, metaphorical power and ultimate horror of the most potent, self-contained vision of America ever made in this country. And in a two-film series stuffed with brilliant acting, John Cazale, as the doomed Fredo Corleone, turns in one of the great overlooked performances in American movie history." Josh Flower is one of the voters who preferred the original, but couldn't snub the sequel: "Not a better film than the original, though nearly its equal, and that's impressive enough in and of itself. Part of me has always resisted the sequel on the grounds that it merely makes explicit what is implicit in the original's last couple shots. But there's no denying the skill and passion with which Coppola expands the world of the original to create an even more profound connection between audience and subject. It becomes awfully hard to dismiss the Corleones as amoral gangsters, which makes Michael's final decision all the harder to live with." Allison Stombaugh similary refused to have one make her ballot without the other: "For a moment I considered not putting this on since its predecessor also made the list, but that's ludicrous. Both films are brilliant and one should not be penalized because of the brilliance of the other. There's a reason they're the only original and sequel to win Best Picture."

2. The Godfather (638 points)

As many predicted, this survey would end up being a battle of two films for the top spot and we now know that Vito Corleone was no match for Rick Blaine. "Yep, I like the original better than the sequel, Griftdrift wrote. "It seems you can't have a discussion of one without the other. But the first film was just tighter. Coppola painted a big impressionist landscape where every shade is represented and everything is fuzzy and clear at the same time." Josh Flower wrote, "The Godfather's been my favorite movie since I was about ten years old. I don't really know what to say except that it's probably the most perfect argument for the successful interaction of art and entertainment that any of us are ever likely to see." Louis P. suggests some tough punishment for those who haven't seen this movie: "This movie is just it. Everything’s great: the acting, the directing, the cinematography, the score. Everything. And hey, did you know Al Pacino could act without yelling? Anyone who’s graduated college in the last 30 years but hasn’t seen The Godfather should have his diploma revoked." Jennifer Dawson wrote, "I enjoy the sequel tremendously but decided to only let one Godfather on my list. I was tempted to pick II as I have often felt it a richer movie... but to be fair, it has the luxury to expand on themes, characters and situatons already established in the first. The first wins hands down, and Michael's journey is one of the great dramatic arcs in movies." Indeed, the debate between the two films is almost a chicken or egg argument. As Matt Zoller Seitz wrote, "This was a tough one; I do think Godfather II is a richer, subtler and in some ways more daring work, but it would not have existed without the original, so I have to give the edge to the movie that came first. It's as close to a completely satisfying film as I've ever seen. It's sweeping and suspenseful, the character arcs are cleanly defined and there's enough intrigue to keep viewers riveted even if they're not aware of the huge debt director Francis Coppola owes to Luchino Visconti's The Leopard and other movies he freely raided for inspiration. This comes closer to being both art and entertainment than all but a handful of Best Picture winners, and frankly, 35 years down the road, it has dated a lot better than many of its rivals." "Coppola can be a bit of a hamfisted filmmaker, but what may be his best movie sings all the way through. In many ways, this brought together the audience that just wanted sensationalism with the audience that wanted something to chew on. That audience would later split down the middle, but for a few, brief years, American film became something magical," Todd wrote. Billy Black emphasizes how it holds up on repeat viewing in an unsual comparison: "Maybe the most engrossing, rewatchable film ever that doesn't have Jedi running around." Josh R admires how Coppola transformed the novel: "The rare Hollywood epic that doesn't forsake the element of character-driven drama that allows big, sprawling movies to exist on a human scale. Coppola respects the nature of his source material, but imbues Puzo's pulpy multi-generational melodrama with a sense of genuine tragedy — in spite of better impulses, there's only so much a person can do to escape the life into which he was born." I think I'll close this one with what has to be one of the most interesting viewing stories I've heard, courtesy of Odienator: "The first time I got drunk was in Cancun, Mexico. I went back to my hotel room and The Godfather was on, dubbed in Spanish. "Es un mensaje siciliano. Se dice Luca Brasi duerme con los pescados," said my T.V. It's the only Best Picture Oscar winner I've watched shitfaced and in Spanish."

1. Casablanca (703 points)
Was there ever any doubt how this survey would turn out? Really, no other ending is appropriate. It's still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a case of do or die — and the one instance where the Academy got it unmistakably right.
"One of the things that I think makes a movie great, and not only great but LAST, is that there is a mystery about it. It cannot be too easily explained, labeled, pinned down. The discussion about it, the debate it, will continue on. I guess you could say this about the great movie stars, too. They don't give it all away. They hold their cards close to their chest, in some way, and keep us guessing about them. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are perfect examples of this. We can never have all of them. In the same way, that we can never have all of ANYbody (at least anybody who is interesting.) There's an essential mystery about their screen presences. I will never get tired of this film."
Sheila O'Malley

Have a feeling that this will be — quite rightly — the slam-dunk, undisputed number one, so I wonder what, if anything I can say about it. I can tell you what makes it my favorite Best Picture (and number two, behind The Right Stuff, on my all-time personal best list): Peter Lorre and Claude Rains and all the little ancillary subplots and details that dart in and out of “the problems of three little people” add up to far more than a hill of beans. The brilliantly woven totality of it — the writing, the direction, the stars, the supporting players, the historic immediacy of the story — is what makes the golden age of Hollywood golden. Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.
Mr. Middlebrow

"One of many howlers in St. David Thomson's "The Whole Equation" is his agreeing with a quote from one of this movie's remarkably few credited screenwriters to the effect that it is "slick shit." This accidental bit of magic is a lot of things, but slick ain't one of 'em. It's probably the most earnest exercise ever committed to film. Personally, I think that's the way it ought to be when it's about fighting, you know, Nazis."
John Ross

"The Beatles of studio-era movies — often taken for granted but impossible to de-throne. There are better films, but you'd be hard pressed to find one that's infiltrated the national bloodstream to the same extent."
Michael Healey

"The ultimate studio picture, seemingly conceived on the fly out of providence, chemistry and sheer luck. But to fully accept this theory would be to discount the importance of director Michael Curtiz, a solid craftsman who, despite helming other classics like The Adventures of Robin Hood, Angels with Dirty Faces and Yankee Doodle Dandy, has never been one to stoke much auteurist heat. Overexposure and excessive popularity are other enemies against which this movie’s reputation has had to endure. But a clear eye reveals Casablanca to be one of the pinnacles of the studio system, proof that even too many cooks and conflicting recipes don’t spoil the soup every time."
Dennis Cozzalio

"Anyone who’s graduated college in the last 60 years but hasn’t seen Casablanca should have his diploma revoked."
Louis P.

"Wins the desert island test, hands down."
Jennifer Dawson

"Casablanca is, like several others on here, just about impossible to deny — a true triumph of craftsmanship in chaos."
Josh Flower

"Try to imagine the Hollywood of today making a bigtime, major melodrama with A-list Stars and a plot ripped from the headlines that also serves as a righteous piece of propaganda, urging people to CHOOSE A SIDE on the major events of the day, and the right side too. Now imagine that every line of dialogue and every plot point quickly becomes a popular cliche, and I mean cliche in the good sense, as in originality with staying power. Can you imagine all this? Are you in the Twilight Zone yet? In an age when most Hollywood movies tend to reverse that famous speech, by having world events and moments of great import not amount to a hill of beans when compared to the problems of three little people, this is the movie that got it right the first time. Casablanca works on so many levels it is mind-blowing."

"Casablanca represents the very best of what commercial cinema is capable of — a perfect synthesis of substance and style, romance and intrigue, noir-ish toughness and Hollywood glamour, character study and rollicking edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Play it again, Sam....and again, and again, and again."
Josh R

"At this point, after having watched this movie countless times, is it still a movie or just a succession of images that I absorb telepathically and words that I repeat back to the screen, endlessly annoying friends and family? This movie might be the greatest movie ever simply because it's a symbol of what Hollywood once did so well: creating a heightened artificiality of romance and suspense and setting and sweet characterization that you can get lost in over and over again. Either that, or I was misinformed. And, like the words of Shakespeare or Cervantes or the Bible, you can't ignore a script this filled with phrases that have entered the lexicon. Plus, the only Hollywood personality whose autograph I ever wanted, and got, was Casablanca co-screenwriter Julius Epstein, but only after he trashed Casablanca as hack work."
That Little Round-Headed Boy

"The ultimate triumph of the Hollywood studio system."

"The definition of a classic. I defy anyone to hate this movie."
Joe Cox

"When I younger I quoted this movie the way other kids quoted Monty Python."
Christopher Price

"This movie is a damn miracle. There's no way it should have worked as well as it did, given that the cast didn't really know what was going on during most of the scenes. It's funny, brutal, and doesn't give the audience a break."
Steve Cox

"I only saw this movie for the first time last year, and I loved it. I could watch it a thousand times. I don't care about technical this or that or script or whatever that make it good — the sum total is good, so I love it."
Heather Kinion

"Last year, housemate Pam destroyed her copy running it in her old VCR while she cooked, but we have my copy for spare. Moral, this is one film you should always have a spare."
Exiled in New Jersey

"I grew up watching the classics. The local independent television station played a summer film festival for many years of my youth, showing a classic movie every weeknight during the hot nights of June, July and August. It amazes me now that there were some of those movies I just never watched, but Casablanca was one of the many I never missed. As with The Godfather and Annie Hall, this is a perfect film."
Galen Sparlin

"The only great script ever written by a committee."
Al Weisel

"The most quotable movie just works..the character actors alone are worth the ticket..never mind Bogie and Bergman...the definition of chemistry!"

"THE great World War II romance, with a brilliant cast; I can quote most of it from memory, complete with my best Bogart impersonation."
Richard Christenson

As they say, that's a wrap. Once again, many thanks to all of you I know personally and only through this World Wide Web of ours for your thoughts, support and patience over the past week. Discuss.

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