Friday, August 17, 2007

A Year Of Netflix

I recently passed the year anniversary of having a Netflix subscription. Using their handy rental history I can see that I've rented 72 titles, starting with Bottle Rocket and ending with the two I have out now (and haven't watched yet), Badlands and The Bourne Supremacy (need to see that before seeing the new one). Included in that, though, is three seasons worth of "The Wire," which appears to have taken at least of couple of months to go through (but worth every second, of course).

Probably a good 80% of these were watched while running on the treadmill, so I have to thank Netflix for making it possible to keep up with the schedule because man, that can get really boring.

Anyway, it seemed like a good time to make a list -- is there ever not a good time to make a list? -- of the Top Ten movies I've rented from Netflix in the last year.

Of course, right off the bat the Top Ten list has to go to eleven. Just because. Of these eleven, six were movies I'd never seen before at all. I'd seen at least parts of the other five, but hadn't actually watched any of them through in their entirety for awhile. Maybe never.

Anyway, since five of the movies on this list were American movies from the era between 1967 and 1975 I can definitely say that this was a golden age for movies as I'm concerned. It's common wisdom that the one-two punch of Jaws in 1975 and Star Wars in 1977 changed the way American movies were made and marketed, and that seems to have become a truism for a very good reason. It's true.

So, in alphabetical order.

Blow Up (1966) - As this post makes clear, I have a timeless fascination with the era when "London swing like a pendulum do." This movie captured the feel of the era like nothing else -- so iconically that it was thoroughly ripe for the tender satire that Mike Myers gave it in Austin Powers. David Hemmings is cool as a cucumber, Vanessa Redgrave is young and shirtless, and the birds are brilliant. Not really typical of the recently passed Antonioni, but interesting in every way.

Bonnie And Clyde (1967) - The movie (along with another one on this list) that kicked-off the golden age of American movies. The Faye Dunaway of this era may well be the most oddly beautiful movie star ever. But beautiful, really? Probably not, but dead sexy? Jeez yes. The level of violence seems tame today, but at the time it was seriously controversial and you can see why because it's not so much the graphic nature of the violence as it is the sensuousness of it -- particularly in the iconic final scene of slow motion mayhem.

Children Of Men (2006) - It's another truism that the best fiction about the future uses the setting as a mere trope to tell the audience about something timeless. Such is the case with Alfonso Cuaron's tale of hope in the midst of death, devastation and destruction. The tracking shot of Clive Owen leading Kee and the world's only infant through the sudden truce of solemn silence is just brilliant. Equally brilliant is the scene using "In The Court Of The Crimson King," one of the most cinematic numbers in rock history.

The Conversation (1974) - One that I had seen before, albeit quite a while ago. This is the movie that Coppola made between The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II -- only two of the half-dozen best movies ever made. Think about that for a second. It's impossible to imagine a better series of three movies having ever been made. The movie equivalent of Talking Heads' triple-play from "More Songs" to "Remain In Light." Gene Hackman is pure paranoia as he completely misunderstands the nature and the scope of the conspiracy he has stumbled into.

The Graduate (1967) - Along with Bonnie And Clyde, the movie that kicked off the golden age. While the movie gave Dustin Hoffman's career a kick start, Anne Bancroft is the real revelation in re-watching this one. While it's notable that she was only six years older than Hoffman (she was 36, he was 30 at the time), what is even more notable is just how incredibly hot she was in this role as a sex-starved suburban mother. She absolutely sizzles. But at the same time, she never loses the pain and vulnerability that is also so central to the character.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) - If anyone had a stretch equal to Coppola's during this time, it might have been Robert Altman. Between this one, M*A*S*H and Nashville, Altman had a hell of a run as well. Warren Beatty plays the role he seems destined to always play, a mostly good-natured, thoroughly befuddled and utterly star-crossed striver. In this case, John McCabe fails to realize when the deck is stacked against him, pushes his luck just a bit too far, and winds up paying the ultimate price. And Julie Christie? I guess that it's possible that there has been a more luminously beautiful actress in the past few decades, but the name is slow to come to mind.

Pan's Labrynth (2006) - Guillermo del Toro's bookend to his buddy Cuaron's. A fantasy set in the past rather than the future, but equally conversant in both fears and hopes. Rightly known for the terrific art direction, set design and costumes, it is the fairy tale story set amidst the harsh realities of the last days of the Spanish Civil War that makes this movie so lastingly memorable. That combination of shining illusion and harsh reality holds right up until the last heartbreaking scene of the movie.

Shampoo (1975) - Take John McCabe, move him forward a century in time, and you've got George Roundy. A simple (simple-minded?) man with no mind for business and a bod for sin. Julie Christie and Goldie Hawn are nothing short of ravishing -- big surprise there, huh? Julie in a backless evening gown could only be matched by Goldie in a lamé micro-mini-skirt. And Lee Grant's turn as Jack Warden's disaffected wife is truly amazing. Hard to believe in this day and age, but there was a time when movies could be made that had three real-life female characters in them. A movie that loves women almost as much as its main character.

Trainspotting (1996) - The only movie on this list that I'd watched within the past couple of years. A movie filled with some of the most reprehensible characters you could ever not take your eyes off of. Has there ever been a more screamingly psychotic character than Begby? Claims that it glorifies heroin use couldn't be further off the mark. There is literally almost nothing that these guys do that you would want to have any part in -- apart from jumping into a cab back to Kelly Macdonald's place.

24 Hour Party People (2002) - Tony Wilson, R.I.P. Between this, Tristram Shandy, Alan Partridge and the ridiculously hilarious Saxondale, Steve Coogan fits easily into the pantheon of funniest Brits ever. Mancunian magic is in the air in this two-part tale of Joy Division and Happy Mondays and everything in between. Great music (obvs), but great acting as well. Sean Harris inhabits Ian Curtis to a degree that is downright spooky. Every taut, twitching fiber in place.

The Kids Are Alright (1979) - The Who at Woodstock was almost certainly the coolest that any rock band has ever been. Just the embodiment of what that word has ever meant. And it's very difficult to ever imagine Keith Moon making it to the age that Townshend and Daltrey are now -- his star was just that incandescent. The first (and only?) lead drummer. I don't know if anyone else was ever capable of playing the drums that way, I only know that no one ever has.


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