erik lundegaard

Movies - Lists posts

Saturday August 22, 2015

From the Archives: Top 10 Music Biopics

I wrote the following for MSN back in 2004 in anticipation of “Ray.” Some of it still works. I'll add my new top 10 at the end.  

Top 10 music biopics

You say you’re a musician and someday you want Hollywood to tell your story? Here’s what you need to do:

  • Tell friends and family there’s something “inside you” that needs to get out.
  • If you're male, get a drug habit.
  • If you’re female, get an abusive husband.
  • Die young. Preferably by plane crash.

We don’t know how many of these scenarios are in the two music biopics opening this fall—Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in “Ray,” and Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin in “Beyond The Sea”—but we wouldn’t be surprised to see at least a few. In the meantime enjoy this list of our 10 best music biopics.

Guidelines. No romans a clef, such as “The Rose” or “Eight Mile.” Also no TV movies: “The David Cassidy Story” or “The John Denver Story.” Life’s too short. No documentaries or mockumentaries, either. Finally, the movie has to be about people famous for their music, not musicians famous for their biopic. This eliminates two great films—“The Pianist” and “Shine”—but opens things up to more traditional examples of the genre.

Now let’s rock n’ roll. To the toppermost of the poppermost!

10. “Bird” (1988)
Directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Joel Oliansky.
Remember the “drug habit” scenario above? Here’s a caveat: If the drug habit is the focus of the film—like in “Lady Sings the Blues,” “Sid and Nancy,” and “The Doors”—it’ll probably kill the film. There's not much that's less dramatic than someone succumbing to addiction. So why is “Bird” on this list? Because Forest Whitaker’s tortured performance as Charlie Parker sticks. Some of the scenes, too, have a spark: traveling through the deep south with “Albino Red,” and in L.A. with Dizzy Gillespie. Too bad the rest of the film doesn’t. Too bad it’s 160 minutes.
Genre: Jazz
Who plays?: Charlie Parker.
Obstacles to success: Cymbals flying through the air.
Problems with success: Drugs. Ulcers. Racism.
Memorable number: Buster Franklin being reintroduced to that kid who couldn’t play in Kansas City.
Academy Awards: Best Sound. Forest Whitaker won Best Actor at Cannes.
Quote: “Chan, comma. Help, period. Charlie Parker.”

9. “La Bamba” (1987)
Written and directed by Luis Valdez.
It’s a bit cartoony. A migrant labor camp never looked so idyllic, and the high school hallways are straight out of “Grease.” The adolescent romance between Ritchie Valens and Donna is, well, adolescent, and Lou Diamond Phillips doesn’t lip-synch particularly well. But the movie is what it sets out to be: a kind of Cain and Abel tale, with Cain carrying a bottle and Abel a guitar. Quick question: on that night in 1959 in Clear Lake, Iowa, three musicians went down in a chartered airplane, and two are on this list: Ritchie Valens (#9) and Buddy Holly (#6). So why is J.P. Richardson getting dissed? Where’s “Hello Baby: The Big Bopper Story”?
Genre: Rock n’ roll
Who sings: Los Lobos.
Obstacles to success: Not many. The kid was seventeen.
Problems with success: His brother. Airplanes.
Memorable number: Singing “Framed” at the American Legion Hall as Bob arrives drunk and ready to fight.
Music cameos: Los Lobos (in a Mexican brothel); Brian Setzer (as Eddie Cochrane); Marshall Crenshaw (as Buddy Holly).
Quote: “I’m gonna be a star. Because stars don’t fall out of the sky, do they?”

8. “Backbeat” (1994)
Directed by Iain Softley. Written by Iain Softley, Michael Thomas, Stephen Ward.
Search the world over and you won’t find anyone who can do a better John Lennon than Ian Hart. “Backbeat” was actually Hart’s second go at John—after the short film “The Hours at the Times”—and once more he’s amazing: looks, sounds, acts just like the former Beatle. Just doesn’t sing. The film focuses on John’s friendship with his art school mate Stuart Sutcliffe, who sold a painting, bought a bass guitar and joined the band. It’s about the Beatles’ Hamburg days, where they honed their talents, and about a love triangle: John, Stuart, and Astrid, the woman who gave the Beatles bangs. But who is John jealous of: Stuart or Astrid? John seems equally confused.
Genre: Rock n’ roll
Who sings: Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs), Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Don Fleming (Gumball), and Dave Grohl (Nirvana) play the music for the early '60s Beatles. Nice! But let’s face it: If Pete Best pounded the drums the way Grohl does, we never would’ve heard of Ringo Starr. 
Obstacles to success: The picture makes it seem the Beatles’ path to success was greased when it wasn’t. Remember “Three-guitar and one-drum groups are on the way out”? You know, as wrong as you’ve  ever been in your life, you’ve never been that wrong.
Problems with success: Takes place before the success.
Memorable number: “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” “Twenty Flight Rock,” “Long Tall Sally”: Take your pick.
Academy Awards: Nope. But Hart recognized as Most Promising Newcomer at the BAFTAs.
Quote: “It’s all dick.”

7. “The Benny Goodman Story” (1955)
Written and directed by Valentine Davies.
“I must say Benny does have his own strange kind of integrity,” future wife Alice Hammond says of Goodman in the middle of this biopic, and the picture’s the same way. It’s one of three Hollywood jazz stories made in the 1950s (along with “The Glenn Miller Story” and “The Gene Krupa Story”), but it works better than the other two, in part, because of this integrity. Goodman has a nerd’s courage when confronting mobsters and bland band leaders but none with Hammond, who must take the lead in their relationship. Allen is understated as the jazz clarinetist. Donna Reed is charming as the classical music enthusiast won over to jazz. And the music swings.
Genre: Jazz.
Who plays: Benny Goodman. Steve Allen was an accomplished musician/composer, however.
Obstacle to success: The usual unimaginative promoters and businessmen.
Problem with success: She’s gentile, he’s Jewish.
Memorable number: Blowing away the stuffy society folks at Carnegie Hall with “Sing Sing Sing (with a Swing).”
Music cameos: Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Ben Pollack, Kid Ory, Harry James, Ziggy Elman, and Martha Tilton.
Quote: “So many things he wants to say. And no clarinet to say them.”

6. “The Buddy Holly Story” (1978)
Directed by Steve Rash. Written by Alan Swyer.
Rock n’ roll has a bit of a complex – it yearns for both street cred and art cred – and two scenes in “The Buddy Holly Story” exemplify this. At one point Holly and the Crickets show up at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and win over a startled black crowd who were expecting black performers. That’s the street cred. Later, a classical violinist compares Holly’s use of strings in “True Love Ways” to Beethoven. That’s the art cred. It helps, too, that Holly shakes his head over the violinist’s comments. You can’t be a true rock n’ roller if you’re seen vying for art cred. The film is a low-key account of rise and crash, with Gary Busey channeling his inner geek to earn an Oscar nom, and Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith playing great back-up as the Crickets, the band that inspired the naming of the Beatles. Occasionally the 1970s seep through the seams of this period piece, but mostly it works the way Holly’s tunes work: without strain.
Genre: Rock n’ roll
Who sings: Gary Busey. Plays, too.
Obstacles to success: Sponsors and preachers who don’t dig rock n’ roll. Suits who won’t let him produce his own music, man.
Problems with success: The jealousy/homesickness of the Crickets.
Memorable number: Singing “Oh Boy” at the Apollo Theater.
Academy Awards: Best Music. Busey was nominated Best Actor.
Quote: “No white act has ever played the Apollo!”

5. “What’s Love Got to Do with It” (1993)
Directed by Brian Gibson. Written by Kate Lanier.
You watch this thing flinching from anticipated blows. When’s he going to strike? Here? Here? When the first punch lands you find out it’s not the first anyway, and then he rains them down and drags her through the house as friends stare in mute horror and the children scream. One boy holds his ears and cries – so heartbreakingly real you wonder what they did to the kid to get him to act that way. When the abuse continues, year after year, it almost drains your energy away. But when Tina finally fights back in the limousine, and she lands that first blow of her own? Oooh, that one feels good. Too much Buddhism at the end, and Ike keeps popping up like Jason in “Friday the 13th,” but still our most emotionally raw music biopic.
Genre: Rhythm and Blues.
Who sings: Tina Turner.
Obstacles to success: Not many. Well, race. 
Problems with success: Ike.
Memorable number: Singing “I Wanna Be Made Over” as she is.
Music cameos: Tina shows up at the end.
Academy Awards: Both Bassett and Fishburne were nominated. Bassett’s so good we think she would’ve won if she’d been able to sing like Tina.
Quote: “Everything’s alright. Just me and your mama talking.”

4. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942)
Directed by Michael Curtiz. Written by Robert Bucker and Edmund Joseph.
Yes, cornball, overly patriotic, and the Four Cohans in blackface is embarrassing. But few actors have embodied energy on the screen as well as Cagney, who shed his gangster image (for a New York minute) by quick-talking, tap-dancing, and charming his way through this biopic of George M. Cohan, creator of American myths, and composer of such rousing American standards as “The Yankee Doodle Boy,” “Grand Old Flag,” and “Over There.” We’re a cynical lot, but the scene where he tap-dances down the White House steps still makes us misty.
Genre: Tin Pan Alley
Who sings: Cagney, see?
Obstacles to success: Dietz and Goff.
Problems with success: Critics. Teenagers in jalopies.
Memorable number: “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” What else?
Music cameos: Eddie Foy, Jr. plays Eddie Foy.
Academy Awards: Best Actor (Cagney), Music and Sound. Nominated for five others, including Picture, Director, Script, Editing, and Supporting Actor (Huston)
Quote: “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you.”

3. “Bound for Glory” (1976)
Directed by Hal Ashby. Written by Robert Getchell.
Ironic title, given it’s one of the few music biopics where the lead character doesn’t seem bound for glory. In fact the young Woody Guthrie seems like a lazy, impractical dreamer. He paints signs, plays fiddle, tells fortunes, fools around. The movie picks up when he picks up and encounters bullying railroad men and uncaring church men on his way to California, the promised land, where things only get worse. The film is like its subject. It has an unhurried, rambling nature. Look for Ronny Cox, the epitome of corporate villainy in films like “Robocop,” as Woody’s mentor, Ozark Bule, the anti-corporate union organizer.
Genre: Folk.
Who sings: David Carradine. Actors sang in the seventies.
Obstacles to success: The dust bowl. The California border patrol.
Problems with success: Sponsors, marketers, and packagers.Memorable number: A sing-along led by Ozark Bule in a migrant labor camp.
Academy Awards: Best Music and Cinematography (Haskell Wexler). Nominated for Film Editing, Costume Design, Writing and Picture. 1976 was a tough year at the Oscars.
Quote: “You sure as hell don’t look like much. How do you sing?” “Makes me happy.”

2. “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1980)
Directed by Michael Apted. Written by Thomas Rickman.
For a film with abject poverty, a near-rape scene, and a whole lot of bickering and squallering, this movie is pure fun. It’s partly the writing and direction, of course, and it doesn’t hurt to have locals in speaking parts. (When did directors stop doing that?) But the movie really belongs to its two stars. Sissy Spacek plays Loretta Lynn from age 13 to, what, 40? She sings like Loretta. Hell, she should’ve gone to Nashville afterwards and cut herself some records. And with her in nearly every scene is one of the best actors in Hollywood. Tommy Lee Jones’ Doolittle Lynn is a flawed, fascinating man who literally drives his wife to stardom only to discover that by succeeding he’s failed. Her success – their success – has rendered him superfluous. How does he handle this? At first poorly; then like a man.
Genre: Country.
Who sings: Sissy Spacek. Perhaps the only thing more amazing than Spacek’s pitch-perfect Loretta Lynn is Beverly D’Angelo’s pitch-perfect Patsy Cline. 
Obstacles to success: Poverty, obscurity, shyness.
Problems with success: Headaches. Doo.
Memorable number: Quieting a honky-tonk with “There He Goes.”
Music cameos: Ernest Tubb and Minnie Pearl. Levon Helm plays Loretta’s father.
Academy Awards: Best Actress for Spacek. The film was nominated for six others, including Picture, Writing, Art Direction, Cinematography, Editing and Sound. The fact that Tommy Lee Jones wasn’t even nominated discounts for all eternity every awards show everywhere. We’re serious.
Quote: “Stop making that noise! You sound like an old bear growling.” 

1. “Amadeus” (1984)
Directed by Milos Foreman. Written by Peter Shaffer.
It’s more than a biopic; it’s a blueprint for how to deal with genius on screen. Simply view the extraordinary (Mozart) through the eyes of the ordinary (Salieri). There’s one glorious scene after another here: Salieri playing his and then Mozart’s music before the innocent priest; Mozart playing back the little march of welcome Salieri composed in his honor (“That doesn’t quite work, does it?”); Salieri looking through Mozart’s first – and only – drafts. And on and on, right up to the very end when Antonio Salieri, the Patron Saint of mediocrities, absolves us all. And the music? “Finished as no music is ever finished.”
Genre: Classical
Who plays: Neville Marriner
Obstacles to success: Too many notes.
Problems with success: Dead father. Carping wife. Jealous colleague. Not necessarily in that order.
Memorable number: Pick one.
Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Writer, Actor (Abraham), Art Direction, Costume Design, Make-up and Sound. Also nominated for Actor (Hulce), Cinematography, and Editing.
Quote: “I was staring through the cage of those meticulous ink strokes – at an absolute beauty.”

Not bad: “The Glenn Miller Story” (1953); “Lady Sings the Blues” (1972); “Sweet Dreams” (1985); “Sid & Nancy” (1986); “Immortal Beloved” (1994);

Not good: “The Gene Krupa Story” (1959); “Mahler” (1974); “Lisztomania (1976); “The Doors” (1991); “Selena” (1997)

top 10 music biopics

Since then? The floodgates. We've gotten, among others, “Ray” (Ray Charles) “Beyond the Sea” (Bobby Darrin) “Walk the Line” (Johnny Cash) “La Vie en Rose” (Edit Piaf) “I'm Not There” (Bob Dylan) “Cadillac Records” (Chess Records) “Jersey Boys” (Frank Valli) “Get On Up” (James Brown) “Jimi: All Is By My Side” (Jimi Hendrix), “Love & Mercy” (Brian Wilson) and “Straight Outta Compton” (NWA).

Some I haven't seen yet. And with some of the top 10 above I'm like, really, Erik? “What's Love Got to Do With It?” at No. 5? I keep thinking that I gave “Bird” short shrift and movies like “La Bamba” too much shrift. I keep remembering being not overwhelmed by “Bound for Glory.” I remember exactly nothing about “The Benny Goodman Story.”

Given all that, here's my new Top 10. Your results will differ:

  1. Amadeus
  2. Coal Miner's Daughter
  3. Yankee Doodle Dandy
  4. La Vie en Rose
  5. I'm Not There
  6. Love & Mercy
  7. Bound for Glory
  8. Jimi: All Is By My Side
  9. What's Love Got to Do With It?
  10. The Buddy Holly Story

Beyond the first two, it's really kind of a crapshoot.

Whose music biopic would you like to see on screen? Or maybe the better question, given the history of the genre, is: Whose story would you LEAST like to see Hollywood screw up?

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Posted at 06:38 AM on Aug 22, 2015 in category Movies - Lists
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Saturday August 15, 2015

Ranking Hitchcock

Patricia in "The Birds"

Patricia recreating a scene from “The Birds” outside the Potter Schoolhouse during a 2011 trip to Bodega, Cal.

On the day of Alfred Hitchcock's 116th birthday, two days ago, some top IndieWire critics, including Anne Thompson, Susan Wloszczyna and John Anderson, ranked their 25 favorite Hitchock films. Twenty-five! “Vertigo,” the new darling, was No. 2, while “Notorious” took the top slot. I saw the list via Jeff Wells, who had some mild disagreements, mostly with the highish ranking (13th) of “Marnie,” which both Wells and I think is the lamest of Hitchcock's work. But it's been revived by the New Yorker's Richard Brody. Too bad. But Wells agrees with IndieWire about the new No. 1.

My history of Hitchcock is sketchy, but of the ones I've seen I'd rank them in this order:

  1. The 39 Steps
  2. Rear Window
  3. Notorious
  4. Vertigo
  5. Psycho
  6. The Birds
  7. Rebecca
  8. North by Northwest
  9. The Lady Vanishes
  10. Rope
  11. Dial M for Murder
  12. Sabotage
  13. The Wrong Man
  14. Spellbound
  15. Marnie

There's a great purity and economy in the storytelling of “The 39 Steps,” not to mention wit. It reminds me of what Fitzgerald and Salinger did with the best of their stories. It's also got one of the great steamy scenes of the 1930s. 

I need to see more Hitchcock, obviously.

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Posted at 08:18 AM on Aug 15, 2015 in category Movies - Lists
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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 times and would like to watch again. Like 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. 

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.

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