Tuesday, June 05, 2007

MTV Movie Awards? Puhleese. Madame B has a better idea.

Tonight I watched about thirty seconds of the MTV Movie awards. That was more than enough. It was like a revolting commercial bombardment for all the crappy summer movies I'm actually trying to avoid. When Eric and I went out to see Knocked Up (against our better judgment) we laughed at how every single preview was for a sequel, many of which were the third installments of movies that really weren't that good the first time around anyway.

The point is that people seem hellbent not only on tolerating and indulging Hollywood's seemingly endless stream of mediocrity, but they are giving awards for it! The thirty seconds I saw of the MTV awards were for "The best movie you haven't seen yet." Excuse me, but how can you give awards (which I believe are based on viewer votes) to a film that isn't even out yet? (Transformers was the big winner, I'm sure you will all be happy to know.)

I began this little list of movies I love while we were in Africa and missed the Oscars. I was working on the strictest of anti-snobbery criteria, which I'm sure the MTV crowd would appreciate. There are a million lists of the best movies with artsy fartsy-ness or how much weight the actor gained to play the part as the main criteria. But, what, I ask you, of watch-ability? The easiest way to determine whether or not a movie falls into the favorite category is to ask oneself “Would I watch this movie again (and again and again?) Sure, we can all agree that Citizen Kane is a great and groundbreaking movie, but ask yourselves, would I really want to sit through that snooze fest more than once?

The films recognized by Madame B must show outstanding achievement in the category of pleasing Madame B. The films honored by Madame B must gel with her peculiar aesthetic in such a way that she would welcome them into her collection of DVD’s. The list has been alphabetized so as to minimize your search time at Blockbuster.com. Skip Spiderman III and Pirates III and Shrek III and check out one of these Madam B picks. I promise, you'll have more fun. Happy viewing!

About Schmidt: I like how this movie is about an ordinary person, and how his ordinary life is filled with comic moments to which he is completely oblivious. The scene where Jack Nicholson writes an expletive filled diatribe to the little African boy he is sponsoring is truly brilliant.

Adaptation: This wacky homage to the plagues and triumphs of the screenwriter’s profession is a pleasure from the start. Remember the scene where he attends the screen writing workshop and is talking in voice over, and the workshop guru announces that voice overs are lazy screen writing? It could only work in a Charlie Kaufman movie.

Almost Famous: This movie had great music, and the one decent performance Kate Hudson has ever handed in, (seriously, what is her problem? One dazzling performance at the beginning of her career? That’s all she had in her?) but also lots of amazing supporting players playing over the top characters all performing for each other on a once in a lifetime journey. I love the subplot of tension between Francis McDormand and Zoey Doeschenal. “This song explains why I have to leave home to become a stewardess.”

Amelie: (top five) This movie is a fantasy brought to reality through Amelie’s imagination. We accompany her through a Paris that exists only in her mind, full of wonderful accordion music, Zorro costumes, gorgeous complementary colors, discarded photo booth picture collections, fantastic characters and of course, love, love, love.

Annie Hall: This movie practically defines the way all us non-New-Yorkers perceive the Big Apple. Diane Keaton is riveting in this movie and I think the fact that Woody Allen didn’t get that while making the film is evidence that he isn’t nearly as brilliant as everyone gives him credit for. My favorite scene is the one when they are in the kitchen and the lobsters escape and he freaks out and tries to bash them away with a tennis raquet.

The Big Lebowski: I’m not a pot smoker, but this movie cracks me up every time. Nice over-the-top characters, who are stereotypes, but not caricatures. They all have their own specific tics that make them believable. One of many favorite moments in the film is stuffy Phillip Seymour Hoffman saying “We’ve been frantically trying to reach you Dude!”

Bridget Jones Diary: This movie has a (1) a female heroine who is (2) not working in the fashion industry. I’ll give you a medal if you can show me five others that meet those two criteria. This was among the first movies I’ve ever seen in which the heroine is frumpy and constantly humiliating herself and never receives a makeover. The moral of the story is that Bridget needs to accept herself for what she is and to find a partner who will love her “Just as she is.” Sadly, I don’t think there are many love stories like that in Hollywood. We would rather hear stories about how one person is grossly unfit for the other but somehow manages to win their love by lying or getting a full body wax to impress for the beloved person. Sad commentary on our society, no?

Casablanca: I know it’s a classic, and with good reason. This movie is sophisticated and one of the few where even though the lovers have to part, you trust that it was the right decision in the end. Think on all the great lines that come from this movie, and give a minute to thank those screenwriters who do so much to bring us great stories and who get so little thanks. (and take a little moment for Ingrid Bergman while you're at it. Now there was an actress with chops.)

Can’t Hardly Wait : Okay, so it’s totally possible that I loved this movie in High School and cling sentimentally to the initial joy it brought, and I’m fine with that. I recently watched it again and the scene that makes it stand the test of time for me is the one where the Angel Stripper and Preston face off at the phone booth in the middle of the night and end up having an unexpected heart to heart. “If you want Barry Manilow, you go out there and get him!”

Dirty Dancing: If I cling to Can’t Hardly Wait because of a sentimental attachment formed in High School, it is infinitely more likely that I formed an attachment to this movie based largely on waves of hormonal rapture with my teen aged girlfriends as we sat watching Patrick Swayze teach Jennifer Grey the ins and outs of dance and the ins and outs of love. Sigh! Best coming of age movie ever. Too many great moments to count. I still get that funny nervous feeling in my stomach watching it all unfold.

Edward Scissorhands: The visuals alone are enough to recommend this kooky film, but then you get a really cool plot about a freakish outsider dealing with lonely suburban ladies and falling in love with a cheerleader. Add Jonny Depp to the mix and you get something really magical.

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: This movie makes me cry every time I watch it. You could get really pretentious and take about memory as a metaphor, blah blah blah, but I think the film boils down the the idea that even when memories are painful, they shape us and without them, we are no longer ourselves.

A Fish called Wanda: This is the one and only time that Kevin Klein’s total scene stealing seemed to work for the film instead of against it. Nothing is sweeter than watching cute little Jaimie Lee Curtis break his heart in the end (while simultaneously turning John Cleese’s whole life around.) Great fun.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Yeah, its campy, but that doesn’t make it any less wonderful. This is a movie about being in the moment come hell or high-water, an inspiration to people playing hookie in all walks of life. One favorite line of many, many, many; Snooty waiter“You’re Abe Froman? The Sausage King of Chicago?” Ferris, incredulously“Are you suggesting that I am not who I say I am?”

High Fidelity: (top five) I love this movie because it makes fun of snobbery while simultaneously embracing it. (A problem I deal with constantly…don’t believe me? Just look closely at this list.) And Jack Black bogarts every scene he’s in. Plus, this is the most recent non-atrocious movie John Cusak has been in that I’m aware of. Who the hell is this guy in “Must Love Dogs”? Its like I don’t even know him anymore.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The animated one with Dr. Seuss’ original illustrations. It is totally wonderfully done, the Classic Dicken’s Christmas Story reworked in a way that makes it accessible and makes us feel compassion for even the grouchiest of hum-bugs.

Joe Versus the Volcano: (top five) Another movie about seizing the day, but part of what makes it so fun is the long build up. Remember his office at the lube factory? He trudges to work through thick revolting mud with all the other minions dressed in grey wool to work in an office with flickering green neon lighting and coffee with cottage cheesey instant creamer floating in it. This is the life Joe has accepted for himself without coercion. It takes a lot to wake him up, but once he’s been woken, we know he’s never going back. Favorite Line? “My father says only a few people are really truly awake, and that they live in a constant state of amazement.”

Legally Blonde: I went into this movie thinking I would hate it, that it was a step back to the dark ages for women everywhere, but was surprised to find a really wonderful character who wanted more for herself than just to be a pretty sorority queen. In the end, she didn’t even want the man she went to law school to impress. (And just because she enjoyed a weekly manicure, didn’t mean she couldn’t kick butt in a court of law) So, it was silly, and yeah, they tried to milk it for a sequel to little effect, but you can’t tell me her entrance video to Harvard wasn’t hilarious. “I am comfortable using legal jargon in real life(two hot guys walk past her floating in the pool and cat whistle) “I object!” (big hammy smile for the camera)

Little Miss Sunshine: What was so great about this movie was the way it strung you along. Something that would have been totally implausible in any other scenario became totally realistic; the whole family is stretched to their absolute maximum and after each character reaches their breaking point, they all adopt the little girl’s goal as their own, no matter what the obstacles or cost. I’ve rarely seen anything that works so well, that literally had me crying and laughing simultaneously.

My Cousin Vinny: Slick New Yorkers plunked in the middle of rural Alabama is a scene ripe for comic genius and Marissa Tomei is at the top of her game in this film; sarcastic, loud and delightful. And just when we think nothing is ever gonna help Vinny win the case, she comes through big time.

Moonstruck: Cher as the practical and no-nonsense accountant who falls for Nicolas Cage as the bitter brother of her fiancĂ© who lost his hand in a baking accident, whom of course promptly fall madly in love with each other at exactly the wrong moment. Great dialogue and lots of yelling and faux Italian-style drama make it right up my alley. Cher; “Where are you taking me?” Nick “To the bed.” Cher: “Okay, fine, take me to the bed, I don’t care anymore.” Great supporting characters, including Cher’s mother who is dealing with her philandering husband. “I think men run around on women because they are afraid of death.”

The Money Pit: Okay, so I have a bit of an old school Tom Hanks thing. Remember when he was so hilarious, and didn’t take himself so seriously? Remember when he understood that he was an actor and not a nobel peace prize contender? That’s the Hanks we have in this movie. Covered in sweat and doing battle with an army of construction workers, entertainers and most memorably, a giant curving staircase, teetering on the brink of collapse. I just hope to god I never have a renovating project that goes this badly.

Mary Poppins: Fantasy and fairy tale and absurdity that somehow manages to never devolve into sappiness. A movie for children that isn’t patronizing and has beautiful music? Lovely.

My Fair Lady: I have to say I’ve never liked the way this movie ends. (What self-respecting woman would go back to a bullying beast of a man like Professor Higgins?) But, the music is truly well done, the costumes are amazing-who could forget the massive hat she wears to Ascot? Or that gorgeous and delicately beaded dress she wears to the ball? And like him or loathe him, nobody could play Professor Higgins like Rex Harrison.

The Namesake: This is the only film on this list I haven’t actually seen more than once, but I adored it so much (it is still in theaters) that I know it is on my favorites list. It was stunning and did just what good cinema does; it transports you, it shows you things without telling them to you and changes your perspective.

Office Space: A perfect satire of corporate America and crappy chain restaurants. Plus, our hero and heroine escape in the end with the realization that they are the ones who control their destinies…without being too moralistic.

The Princess Bride: (top five) A hokey fairy tale with a romantic, kitschy, irreverent, we-screenwriters-are-in-on-the-joke kinda vibe. Whenever I ask Eric to get something off a high shelf for me he looks me right in the eyes and says “As you wish.” Laugh if you must, but it gets me every time. Oh, and did I mention, Andre the Giant? This one is in my top five.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: Looking over my list, this is really the one action movie in the whole thing. I do love the characters in this movie, most of all the fiery leading lady. It has a lot of things to love, intrigue, adventure, travel, romance, snakes, poisoned dates, creepy Nazi’s, archaeology, and of course, a hero who knows how to kick butt with just a bull whip and a battered hat.

Reality Bites: Maybe it is just all the parallels this movie holds for me; having worked for the Gap, not knowing what to do after college (and discovering that your degree doesn’t really seem to be getting you anywhere), figuring out that you are actually in love with your best friend, trying to make a documentary film and just trying to live. It’s a cheesy movie, and it oversteps its parameters a bit (and don’t think young Ethan Hawke was any less of a poser back then than he is now…) but it still deals nicely with the bizarre I’ve just finished college, now what question.

The Royal Tennenbaums: I loved the visuals and the music of this movie. It was a lot of fun, it was quirky and odd, but it still felt right. This movie created its own little visual universe, that reminded me of a scale model or child’s science experiment. I liked this dysfunctional smarty pants family, and their saboteur of a patriarch, always insulting people and thinking only of himself, because we all know people like that. But it was made more interesting with these silly costumes, knotted silk scarves around the neck, walking sticks, silly hats, weird, stick straight hair. It was like a little kid’s idea of what being a grown up means, and I love that about every movie Wes Anderson makes.

Say Anything: Well, show me any girl who doesn’t wish she had a boyfriend who would stand outside her window with a boom box held over his head playing their song after a really bad fight. It is a romantic gesture that is embedded into the collective unconscious of every American woman under the age of 35. (Keep that in mind gentlemen.)

Sleepless in Seattle: The genius of this movie is the fact that the two main characters don’t even meet until the very end of the film. This makes for a lovely musing on the difference between fantasizing about a stranger and living with a real live person. What exactly is the difference between settling down and just settling? The supporting characters eight year old Jonah and his girlfriend Jessica are total scene stealers with their little private language. “They are MFEO!” “What’s that?” (Made for each other!)

Sideways: This movie is one of the best I’ve ever seen dealing with the disappointment, readjustments, risks and possibilities that come with real life. It isn’t hollywooded up, but it is still wildly entertaining and you come away really touched. It is a perfect example of that sad funny that Alexander Payne does so well.

Some like it Hot: Every line of this movie is sharp and witty. There is no flab anywhere. There are jokes everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. I know people say this all the time, but I don’t think there is anybody out there making movies like this right now. It is just too much work to be that witty about everything and have a plot and juggle difficult actors and pull off comedy. Sure, they are still working the men dressing as women card (its one of the oldest jokes in the history of theater folks…) but not to the amazing payout that you get here. This movie is just brilliant fun, plus there is a lot of shimmery Marilyn to enjoy.

Swingers: One heartbroken actor and his crowd of hipster wanna-be rat packers working their way up in Hollywood makes for a great story about how friends can help you through the roughest patches and nobody is as cool as they seem. “You are so money-You’re like this big bear, with these big f-ing claws and these big f-ing teeth, and she’s just this little bunny, and your not hurting the bunny, your just batting it around a little- you’re so money! And you don’t even know it.”

Trading Places: This movie has a wonderful point: the circumstances we are born with often determine how our lives will turn out. This is neatly illustrated when a fancy pants stockbroker and a street hustler's lives are traded at the whim of two rich old white men satisfying a bet about nature versus nurture. Oh yeah, and its from back when Eddie Murphy was still capable of being funny when not animated.

Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken: Quite likely to be another of the movies I cherish from childhood illogically, this one has everything an eight year old girl is looking for in a movie: Horses, horses, horses, a cute boy, and more horses. Rebellious country hick orphan girl runs away to become a diving girl in Atlantic City, makes friends with a tough on the outside, soft on the inside old showman and falls in love with his handsome beefcake son. Throw in some melodramatic tragedy, and some obstacles overcome and you’ve got a great coming of age love story.

It’s a Wonderful Life: This movie always makes me cry, but not for the sappy-he realizes his life was worthwhile reason (although I do love that, and I’m always glad George stuck to it at the Savings and Loan and helped all those folks) No, this movie makes me cry buckets because poor George never ever ever gets to leave stinky old Bedford Falls and it’s the one and only thing he wants for himself. I cry at this movie because it is all about making sacrifices so that other people can thrive. I can see why this message struck a chord with Americans who had survived two world wars. Sacrifice can be a noble thing, but poor old George…he never even got to see Niagara Falls. It always breaks my heart, because he is a wonderful man that Jimmy Stewart.

When Harry Met Sally: (top five) This movie sets the standard by which all other romantic comedies must be judged. It is still the best romantic comedy I have ever seen, because Harry and Sally are real people and we get to know them in the same way they get to know one another…over the course of ten or fifteen years. And eventually we get to the point where we understand why they might like each other. They’ve both got quirks and they misunderstand each other, but neither one of them is a caricature- they are just neurotic New Yorkers whose lives kept intersecting. One of my favorite touches in this movie is the smattering of old couples who tell their how we met stories to the camera as the plot progresses. It adds a sense of perspective to the whole thing…like there are a million other people whose story is as sweet and bizarre as Harry and Sally’s. We’re still waiting Norah Ephron.

1 comment:

Nick said...

Great idea and a great list. I have also seen most of those films more than once. But I'm also not ashamed to say I've seen Citizen Kane three times and will probably see it another three before I merge with the infinite.

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