Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Movies, 80s, Best

In the blogosphere, I find posts about 80s Movies. That is right up my alley, so I am going to post, and - if time permits - comment. Meanwhile, getting into the spirit of movie talk, Jim Snowden offers worst films even by great directors and best films by one-hit wonder directors. Those are interesting lists and topics themselves, and perhaps the spirit will move us to emulate.... not this post, though.

1 City of Sadness - dir. Hou Hsiao Hsien: follows a family in Taiwan from the end of WWII (it opens with Hirohito's radio speech, announcing Japan's surrender) to the arrival and takeover of Taiwan by the Guomindang. A beautiful film, with masterful articulation of space and depth of field, sophisticated use of time, flashbacks, ellipses and shifts of perspective, with a narrative and political sense that holds it together - the confusion of tongues, the ethnic and racial and political divisions, the wonderful accident of a star who couldn't speak Taiwanese, so played a deaf man, a perfect symbol for the impossibility of communication.... a film of political bitterness, and oppressive sadness.

2 Blue Velvet - David Lynch: Intense Freudian nightmare, with satiric overtones about middle America, TV, the Hardy Boy... brilliant in every possible way - gorgeous looking (the rich colors, the widescreen, wide angle cinematography, the distorted spaces, the lighting), gorgeous sounding - a funny, creepy, disturbing, moving masterpiece.

3 The Elephant Man - David Lynch: having seen this on video back in the 80s, I could like it, respect it - but until I'd seen it in a theater, in all its widescreen magnificence... when I did, I understood. The effect of the rich black and white, the odd portentious compositions, full of Lynchian spaces, with a kind of chorus of sights and sounds of machines. Men as monsters. Merrick on show, then, at the end, turned, made the looker as much as the lookee. The mirror. Dreams. Outstanding.

4 Fitzcarraldo - Werner Herzog: Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog sail a steamship up the Amazon, drag it over a mountain, and send it crashing through rapids. The story - Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, failed businessman, opera lover, hauling that steamship around - collapses into the performance of this man by Herzog and Kinski, but that doesn't matter either. Autobiographical, allegorical (isn't making any film a bit like hauling a steamship over a mountain? isn't life a bit like that? if it isn't - shouldn't it be?), absurd and wonderful all the way down.

5 Do the Right Thing - Spike Lee: A day in the life of Bed Stuy. A bad day. But Lee, here, is fair, giving everyone their reasons, and making it all make sense.

6 Peking Opera Blues - Tsui Hark: featuring an iconic performance by Bridget Lin, who is one of the great Movie Stars of all time. A thrilling, overpacked adventure involving an opera company, revolutionaries, warlords, gangsters, soldiers, petty thieves, and a good chunk of the burden of Chinese history. And the usual array of cross-dressing, derring do and bravura film-making one expects from Tsui Hark. Still a bit trapped by sound stages - lacks the production values of his Once Upon a Time in China films, but probably compensates with a tighter focus on the story and, well, Bridget Lin.

7 Black Rain - Shohei Imamura: adaptation of a book about a family living in the aftermath of Hiroshima. Imamura is an odd case - he has won the Palme D'Or twice at Cannes - for fairly unremarkable films. This one and Eijenaika are way better than Ballad of Narayama, his 80s winner. Somewhat unusual for Imamura - very restrained and dignified - the Ozu influence can be seen quite clearly.

8 Come and See - Elem Klimov: horrific story of a teenager fighting Germans in Bylorussia, 1943.

9 Full Metal Jacket - Stanley Kubrick: "I AM in a world of shit." Another of Kubrick's many fine war pictures, with the proof of the equation sex=death=shit worked out in some detail, in boot camp and Vietnam.

10 Brazil - Terry Gilliam: One of the best SF films ever. An everyman gets caught in a mistaken identity when his upstairs neighbor is mistaken for a revolutionary and taken away. He tries to help, and is himself destroyed. Brilliant evocation of a shabby future - cyberpunk almost before the word, with its low tech, grungy look and feel - a beautiful and genuinely haunting film.

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