erik lundegaard

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Tuesday July 28, 2015

My Top 10 American Movies, as of July 28, 2015

My Top 10 American movies: Thin Red Line, Breaking Away, The Insider

The dark side of the American dream: war, profits, and the death of the working class. None of these movies wound up on the BBC list.

I'll have a few more posts about that BBC list of the top 100 American movies as chosen by 62 international critics, but, as a reminder, each of the 62 chose their own top 10, with No. 1 being worth 10 points, 2 worth nine points, and so on. Since I'm a bit critical of the list, I thought I'd come up with my own Top 10. Haven't done it in a while. And never from a wholly American perspective. 

It's not easy. This is what the BBC says about its process:

What defines an American film? For the purposes of this poll, it is any movie that received funding from a US source. The directors of these films did not have to be born in the United States – in fact, 32 films on the list were directed by film-makers born elsewhere – nor did the films even have to be shot in the US. ... Critics were encouraged to submit lists of the 10 films they feel, on an emotional level, are the greatest in American cinema – not necessarily the most important, just the best. These are the results.

I went after movies that say something deep and real about life. And if they say something deep and real about American life, all the better. “The Godfather,” after all, is about the dark side of the American dream (first line: I believe in America) and so is “All the President's Men.” I guess most of these films are, now that I think about it. Even “Breaking Away.” It's lighthearted in tone but it's about the death of the blue-collar working class. It's about owning your epithet (nothing is more American than that), and, in a very funny way, it's about the American talent for reimagining yourself—in this case as a non-American; as an Italian. 

I also tried to pick movies that I've watched at least five timed and would like to watch again right now.

Enough gab:

My Rank Movie Director BBC Rank
1 The Thin Red Line (1998) Terrence Malick n/a
2 The Godfather (1972) Francis Ford Coppola 2
3 The Insider (1999) Michael Mann n/a
4 Casablanca (1943) Michael Curtiz 9
5 Annie Hall (1977) Woody Allen 23
6 Breaking Away (1979) Peter Yates n/a
7 All the President's Men (1976) Alan J. Pakula n/a
8 Amadeus (1984) Milos Forman n/a
9 Singin' in the Rain (1952) Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly 7
10 Monkey Business (1931) Norman McLeod n/a

Immediate thoughts:

  • It's a very '70s-centric list but it could have been more so: “Chinatown,” “Cuckoo's Nest,” “Love and Death,” “Jaws,” “The Godfather Part II.” The '70s were a good decade for American film and I was coming of age during it. 
  • Six of my 10 aren't on the BBC's top 100.
  • When will “The Thin Red Line” get its due? When will “The Insider”? (I have no hope that “Breaking Away” will ever get its due.)

Feel free to post your Top 10 (or 5, or 3) below. 

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Posted at 06:40 AM on Jul 28, 2015 in category Movies - Lists
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Wednesday July 22, 2015

That BBC 100 Greatest Movies List, By Genre

BBC top 100 American movies by genre

In BBC's list, crime is strong, comedies are holding their own, but musicals are way over yonder in the minor key. 

OK, another post about BBC's list of the 100 greatest American films, as chosen by 62 international critics

First thing I noticed? Not a lot of musicals. Also not many animated movies: one, to be precise. A superhero movie made the list, which is new, plus two documentaries. And an experimental short from the 1940s? OK. I guess. But one wonders how.  

Which genres did well? That most American of genres, the western, did OK. So did crime drama and film noir, both of which are wholly American, despite the latter's French nomenclature and the European pedigree of many of its most famous practitiioners.

(Side thought: How many of the directors on this auteur-heavy list of great American movies are foreign-born?) 

Comedy did OK, with some interesting choices (ex: “Groundhog Day”), while horror got the usual nods (Hitchcock, Kubrick) plus one unusual one (“Night of the Living Dead”). The critics weren't loving the war movies. In fact, there's more of what I call “mystery thriller w/perverse sexuality” than there is of war.

This last comment indicates a problem with even attempting what I'm attempting. What genre is “The Tree of Life,” for example? Or “Casablanca”? Or “Crimes and Misdemeanors”? Is this last a crime drama? A crime drama with comedy? A comedy with crime and drama? What's the difference between a crime drama and a film noir? Entire books have been written on that subject. I can't help recalling James Baldwin's great line about how our passion for categorization, our attempt to order the world neatly, has “boomeranged us into chaos; in which limbo we whirl, clutching the straws of our definitions.” That's me, here. But I keep doing it. Or attempting it. 

Proviso stated, here are the genre numbers. (I've added the “mystery thriller w/sex” subgenre into the “thriller” category):

  • Drama: 31
  • Comedy: 16
  • Western: 10
  • Film noir: 9
  • Thriller: 7
  • Musical: 5
  • Sci-fi: 5
  • Action: 3
  • Horror: 3
  • Romance: 3
  • War: 3
  • Documentary: 2
  • Animated: 1
  • Superhero: 1
  • Short: 1

Essentially it's a dark brooding list with a few oddities, like “Forrest Gump” at No. 74. (I put that one in its own category: “drama, comedy.” It seems a drama to me first. You could go: “drama, fantasy” or “drama, history,” too.)

For a list that ends with “Citizen Kane” at No. 1 and “The Godfather” at No. 2, it's also a fairly hip list, which makes “Gump” an even odder inclusion. Maybe it's getting its hipster fans now, who are reacting to my generation's overall shrug on the subject.  

In the meantime, for masochists, the list as sorted by genre (or its best approximation):

Film Genre
84. Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972) action-adventure
82. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981) action-adventure
38. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) action-adventure
86. The Lion King (Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, 1994) animated
95. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933) comedy
83. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938) comedy
71. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993) comedy
67. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936) comedy
50. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940) comedy
44. Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 1924) comedy
30. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959) comedy
18. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931) comedy
17. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925) comedy
55. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967) comedy, dark
42. Dr Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964) comedy, dark
24. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960) comedy, dark
58. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940) comedy, romance
32. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941) comedy, romance
23. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977) comedy, romance
56. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985) comedy, sci-fi
69. Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982) documentary
53. Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, 1975) documentary
73. Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976) drama
63. Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984) drama
31. A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974) drama
26. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1978) drama
25. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989) drama
14. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975) drama
59. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Miloš Forman, 1975) drama
29. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980) drama
22. Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924) drama
74. Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994) drama, comedy
79. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011) drama, coming of age
57. Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1989) drama, crime
93. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973) drama, crime
81. Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991) drama, crime
28. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994) drama, crime
20. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990) drama, crime
19. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976) drama, crime
10. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) drama, crime
6. Sunrise (FW Murnau, 1927) drama, crime
2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) drama, crime
94. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002) drama, crime
46. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946) drama, fantasy
99. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013) drama, history
97. Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939) drama, history
65. The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1983) drama, history
39. The Birth of a Nation (DW Griffith, 1915) drama, history
27. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975) drama, history
11. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942) drama, history
1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) drama, history
47. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964) drama, psychological
87. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004) drama, sci-fi
48. A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951) film noir
100. Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951) film noir
92. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955) film noir
89. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950) film noir
72. The Shanghai Gesture (Josef von Sternberg, 1941) film noir
54. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950) film noir
51. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958) film noir
35. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944) film noir
12. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974) film noir
85. Night of the Living Dead (George A Romero, 1968) horror
62. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980) horror
8. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) horror
88. West Side Story (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, 1961) musical
80. Meet Me in St Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944) musical
70. The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli, 1953) musical
7. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952) musical
34. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) musical fantasy
61. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999) mystery thriller w/sex
60. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986) mystery thriller w/sex
21. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001) mystery thriller w/sex
3. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) mystery thriller w/sex
43. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948) romance, drama
9. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942) romance, drama
37. Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959) romance, weepy
91. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982) sci-fi
76. The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980) sci-fi
75. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977) sci-fi
36. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) sci-fi
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) sci-fi
40. Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943) short, experimental
96. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008) superhero
13. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959) thriller
33. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) thriller, psychological
68. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946) thriller, romance
90. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) war
78. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993) war
15. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946) war
98. Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980) western
77. Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939) western
66. Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948) western
64. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954) western
52. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969) western
49. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978) western
45. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962) western
41. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959) western
16. McCabe & Mrs Miller (Robert Altman, 1971) western
5. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956) western

More later. 

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Posted at 01:42 PM on Jul 22, 2015 in category Movies - Lists
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That BBC 100 Greatest Movies List, Decade by Decade

1975: the greatest year in American movie history, according to the BBC

The greatest year in American movie history, according to the 62.

The BBC recently published a list of the 100 greatest American films as chosen by 62 international critics. Why international? Why not American? Or since it's the BBC, why not British? We might learn something of what the Brits think of Americans or what Americans think of America. Instead, “international.” And “62.” OK. 

I'll write more about what's there, what's missing, maybe why, but in the meantime here's something less (or maybe more) controversial: the numbers. 

We'll start with the 62. Each of the 62 critics submitted a list of 10 favorites, ranked 1 to 10. Every 1 was worth 10 points, every 10 worth 1, meaning each list was worth 55 points total and the whole kit and kaboodle worth 3,410 points. Theoretically, “Citizen Kane” at No. 1 could have 620 points and then a big drop-off but like the Oscars we don't get the percentages. 

Let's move onto 21. That's the number of movies from the 1970s that made the list. Next highest is a tie between the '40s and '50s with 15 each. Lowest is the 1900s with zero, then the 1910s with one, then the 2010s with two. As chart, this is our decade-by-decade movie cityscape:

The 100 greatest American films BBC by decade

Here's a handier chart:

Decade No. Films High rank Best Film
2010s 2 79 The Tree of Life
2000s 4 21 Mulholland Drive
1990s 8 20 Goodfellas
1980s 13 25 Do the Right Thing
1970s 21 2 The Godfather
1960s 10 4 2001: A Space Odyssey
1950s 15 3 Vertigo
1940s 15 1 Citizen Kane
1930s 7 18 City Lights
1920s 4 6 Sunrise
1910s 1 39 Birth of a Nation

There's definitely a sweet spot, and one wonders if it's because American movies had a sweet spot or if the critics do, relative to their age. Probably a little of both. 

If there is a sweet spot you could say it's the Ford years. Gerald Ford. The year he took over from Nixon, 1974, has four films on the list, while his first full year in office, 1975, has five, the most for any single year. Meaning these two years have more movies than the entire 1930s, which was considered, when I was growing up in the 1970s, the golden age of moviemaking. I guess gold, like love, fades. 

Here's another number: 5. It's the most movies any director has on the list, but five of them have it: Wilder, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Spielberg, Scorsese. So between them they account for 1/4 of the 100 greatest American movies ever made. According to these 62. 

Coppola and Hawks each have four, while Chaplin, Welles and Ford (behind Hawks for a change) each wind up with three spots. Many directors have two movies on the list, including Woody Allen, Spike Lee, David Lynch, Terrence Malick and Robert Zemeckis. That's right. Robert Zemeckis. He has two but the Coen brothers have zero. Michael Mann got bupkis as well. But now we're getting past numbers. I'll save arguments for another day.

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Posted at 03:04 AM on Jul 22, 2015 in category Movies - Lists
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Saturday July 11, 2015

Ranking Michael Mann's Movies

I just saw “Blackhat” this week so I'm a Michael Mann completeist again—although, to be fair, I don't remember much of “Manhunter” and probably less of “Miami Vice.” I remember most of “The Insider.” I've probably seen that movie 10 times now. 

Here's my ranking if you're looking for a good Michael Mann movie this week. Or next:

  1. The Insider (1999)
  2. Thief (1981)
  3. Collateral (2004)
  4. Heat (1995)
  5. The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
  6. Manhunter (1986)
  7. Public Enemies (2009)
  8. Ali (2002)
  9. Blackhat (2015)
  10. Miami Vice (2007)

Whoops, not a completeist: I haven't seen “The Keep” (1983). Sorry. Sloppy work. In a Michael Mann movie, I'm Waingro.

None of these movies are bad, by the way. There's always something of value in them. There are beautiful scenes; they are beautifully photographed.

I could see, for example, a great double-feature of “Public Enemies” and “Blackhat.” In the former, in the beginning, John Dillinger has ultimate freedom; he can go anywhere he wants to go. He even tells that to Billie. Where are you going? she asks. Anywhere I want, he replies. But unbeknownst, the world is shifting beneath his feet. Modern technology is creating forces that will so impede his freedom he won't even be able to go to the movies. 

In “Blackhat” it's the opposite. The expert in the modern digital world can go almost anywhere again—virtually. There are no borders anymore. As long as you're not physically caught.

The contrast isn't 100 perecent, but there's something there. The freedom of the thief impeded by technology in the beginning of the 20th century, then freed again by digital technology in the beginning of the 21st.

Here's a video tribute to Mann from Alexandre Gasulla. Here's the great final scene in “Public Enemies.” Review of “Blackhat” up soon.

 Michael Mann movies

“Stop talking, OK Slick?”

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Posted at 12:56 PM on Jul 11, 2015 in category Movies - Lists
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Tuesday June 09, 2015

My 2015 SIFF Awards

The Seattle International Film Festival is finally over (whew) and on Sunday it announced its awards. I don't agree with it all but that's the nature of the beast.

Here's mine—from best to worst—limited, of course, to the movies I saw:

  1. Theeb (Jordan)
  2. Meeting Dr. Sun (Taiwan)
  3. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (USA)
  4. The End of the Tour (USA)
  5. Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll (Cambodia)
  6. The Connection (France)
  7. Love & Mercy (USA)
  8. Excuse My French (Egypt)
  9. People, Places, Things (USA)
  10. Being Evel (USA)
  11. Mr. Holmes (GB)
  12. Slow West (USA)
  13. The Overnight (USA)
  14. The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor (USA)
  15. Spy (USA)
  16. Kurmanjan Datka: Queen of the Mountains (Kyrgyzstan)
  17. Love, Theft and Other Entanglements (Palestine)
  18. Vincent (France)
  19. Eisenstein in Guanajuato (GB)

I'm a little ashamed that there's not greater (or any?) Seattle buzz for “Theeb.” I think it's a great film: an art film with a strong narrative thrust.

Overall, though, I had a pretty good year at SIFF. I'd recommend my top 15 films to almost anyone. 

SIFF 2015 movies

Yes, yes, yes, eh.

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Posted at 05:23 AM on Jun 09, 2015 in category Movies - Lists
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