January 31, 2011

#84: All About Eve (1950)

(Part of my series on watching every movie in the IMDB's top 250)

All About Eve is easily the cleverest movie I've ever seen, dialogue-wise. Despite the fact that I was watching it with company, on more than one occasion I rewound the movie just so that I could appreciate all the nuances of particularly well-crafted line.

All About Eve is also one of the few movies where every single premise is believable. It tells the story of a freshly 40-year-old stage actress who grows anxious that she's getting too old to play 20-somethings characters like she used to, and grows increasingly paranoid that the raving (and very attractive) 20-something-year-old fan that she just hired as a valet will be the one to take her spot. It's a story that very closely mirrors the actual lives of the actors in the movie, making their portrayal so much more convincing. In a way it's like a really well written reality show-- to the point that you may forget you're watching a movie at all.

January 30, 2011

#69: Modern Times

(Part of my series on watching every movie of the IMDB's top 250)

I had always been shown clips of Modern Times in high school as artistic examples of the feeling of dehumanization that modernization and mechanization created at the start of the last century. I was please to discover that Modern Times is so much more than that and is, in fact a rather cute and very enjoyable movie. While much of the comedy is in Charlie Chaplin's famous slap-stick style, it's actually rather clever and unpredictable in ways that make it mature and laugh-out-loud funny even today. The satire is there, but it's really much more pantomime, though Chaplin never gets tiring or awkward. As someone who grew up on Cartoon Network, I can see the artistic and comedic influence of Modern Time throughout decades of subsequent cartoons and today appreciate it as a very fine movie.

January 29, 2011

#29. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

(Part of my series on watching every movie of the IMDB's top 250) Every family has a movie they traditionally watch on Christmas. For some families that movie is A Christmas Story or one of the many versions of Dickens's A Christmas Carol. In my family -- we being Italian -- that movie was, of course, The Godfather. And so it wasn't until now that I finally watched this most celebrated of Christmasy movies, It's a Wonderful Life.

In no other movie have I seen such an idealistic portrayal of American civilization throughout the many phases of the early twentieth century. Nor have there been many characters quite as sympathetic and American as the ones played by Jimmy Stewart. In this movie, it's somewhat difficult to pull off given the fact that the 'aww shucks' character of George Bailey (played by Stewart) is a tragic one. He lives exactly the opposite life he wanted for himself in order to satisfy the needs and desires of those around him. He instantly and methodically does what is right, at high cost to himself. And in doing so, grows resentful of a business, community, and family that does not seem to appreciate the sacrifices he has made, and he grows jealous of those who enjoy success in everything he's wanted to do.

Tackling IMDB's Top 250 Movies

Finding every blockbuster around me in New York closed, I stopped by my local public library and found exactly where all those old DVDs went. Rows and rows, and drawers and drawers of free DVDs all at my disposal -- 100 items at a time, for 7-day rentals each -- presented too great an opportunity for me to pass up. I knew exactly where to start. Out came the blackberry, IMDB's list top-250 movies, and my eye at the top. This was to become my mission: to see them all. And not the old lady, blocking the 'S' shelf as she slowly reads each movie back, or the family man with the shopping card full of Dora the Explorer DVDs will stop me!

After printing out the full list at home, I found that of the 250 titles, I had already viewed 98 of them. Not quite a failing grade on the cinematic literacy test, but certainly not enough to win me prizes on Jeopardy either. But with the simple dedication to view one movie a day for the next 152 days, I can finish my task by June 20th of this year.

While this means that I'll finally get around to viewing classics -- the kind that make friends and parents alike recoil in disgust when they learn I haven't seem them -- it also means viewing a considerable number made pre-color and pre-sound. In my experience, these 'ancestor' movies continue to receive high ratings, not based on the pleasurably of viewing them today, but rather based on the reactions they generated in their own time, and their influence on the great movies of the contemporary cinematic age. Will The Apartment be as good as its inspired descendant American Beauty? Will The Great Dictator still be relevant satire some 70 years after Hitler? Time and three tons of popcorn will tell.