This movie combines the awe-inspiring nature of the west with mostly inorganic and stale characters leaving me wondering: can setting alone carry a movie?
American Film Institutes Ranking: #96/100 Awards: None My Rating:
I sometimes take a peak at other people’s thoughts on a movie before settling down on my own: was there an angle I missed or a piece of lore that impacts how I view the film? Roger Ebert is consistently someone I go to first because of his acerbic wit and clear writing. His review for “The Searchers” is a study in character analysis as he slices and dices the depth of the two main leads, reading far into the director’s intentions and purpose.
I simply disagree with what he comes up with.
Ebert dives deep into the shallow souls of these scantily-detailed characters, projecting life into them that I just cannot see. Where he finds impactful statements and testaments to the director’s hidden or subliminal messages, I see stage props — exception being the main character. This leaves me feeling that the environment was more dynamic than the story and characters: the West is daunting with staggering depth and isolation, while the characters are more true to the stagnant mountains that surround them.
The cinematography, the art direction, and the chopped storyline of thousands of other movies owe their derivation to this original piece.
American Film Institute Ranking: #1/100 Academy Awards: Received nine nominations, but only winning for Best Writing (Original Screenplay). My Rating:
So the best movie of all-time, eh?
A movie with that distinction has rightfully been sliced and diced from a million different angles, and with having such an interesting figure in the middle of it all (Orson Welles) there is plenty of of wood to stoke the fire when discussing this piece of significant Americana.
First and foremost, the movie is very enjoyable. From the get go you realize this isn’t run-of-the-mill, early Hollywood; the movie opens up with an electric use of film angles and art direction, creating amazing intrigue with nothing more than ingenious camera work. This is followed with an inverted story, jumping back and forth between present and past in a way Quinten Tarantino would approve. Then, the fascinating main engine that keeps everything runningL the search for what “Rosebud” means.
What materializes is a move that has a little bit of everything: an intriguing story, well-written characters, a period piece of 1940s America, and a commentary on life, capitalism, power and fulfillment.
The moment you’ve been waiting for finally comes 4/5ths through the movie, but it all seems too late and anti-climatic.
American Film Institutes Ranking: #98/100 Academy Awards: Nominated for several: best picture, actor, screenplay, director, supporting actor. Won for supporting actor (Gene Hackman), Director (Clint Eastwood) and Picture. My Rating:
I’m okay with Westerns. My favorite book of all time happens to be a Western (Lonesome Dove). Older generations who display the red,white and blue at every door and buy cars made only in Detroit view Westerns as a quintessential American representation. The West represents the idyllic egalitarian society with no centralized government and each small community creating their own standards for law and acceptable behavior — no need for big government here!
It all works out for you as long as you are the swashbuckling cowboy and not one of the the characters regelated to the edges such as women, children, seniors, and those not willing to be violent. Unforgiven continues with this deconstruction of the Western narrative, focusing on a protagonist that isn’t glistening with moral righteousness while showing the real toll of vigilante justice. So while Unforgiven is certainly a Western, it tries to butt up against the glorification of the genre.
My problem is that in the process of flipping the script, you lose connection with the characters leaving a resolution that is ultimately unsatisfying.
A front row seat to the underbelly of Mafia crime, the movie about the Corleone family has plenty of malevolent retribution to enjoy.
American Film Institutes Ranking: #3/100 Awards: Nominated for eleven awards with one being revoked and winning Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. My Rating:
This is one of the heavy hitters of film, obvious by how high it is ranked (#3!) but also by its universal acclaim. Unfortunately, I’m not 100% on the bandwagon. Don’t get me wrong. I find this movie very good and enjoyable, but I’m not quite sure I would put it in my top five movies of all time.
There is something intoxicating about seeing the inner workings of the mafia, and Francis Ford Coppola’s movie does a wonderful job of characterization — there are rememberable people, interactions, and changes amongst the cast over the course of the movie. The fact that no one is safe from the violence adds an additional level of intrigue, never knowing who might be the next one to “sleep with the fishes.”
Even with a slightly white-washed script, “To Kill a Mockingbird” can swell the spirit and can recreate the magic from the book.
American Film Institute Ranking: #34/100 Academy Awards: Nominated for eight, including best picture and director, while winning three for Best Actor (Gregory Peck), Best Adapted Screenplay (Horton Foote), and Best Art Direction. My Rating:
First, I think it has to be appreciated the challenge this director and screen writer faced: they had to take one of the most beloved pieces of literature and transmute it onto the silver screen. This was no small task.
Their approach was to put more focus on Atticus Finch than Scout which is a pretty-big deviation from the book. There are both positives and negatives because of this narrative change, and people’s feelings about this movie can usually be tracked back to how they view this slight of hand. Atticus is such a beloved figure of moral inspiration that having him be the center brings his edifying persona to the forefront, allowing fans of the book to get more of a favorite character. The downside is that the story strikes an odd tone, being almost silent on the African American plight.
American Film Institute Ranking: #17/100 Academy Awards: Nominated for four (Best Actor, Actress, Adapted Screenplay and Director) winning Best Actor for Humphrey Bogart (his only Academy Award). Director: John Houston My Rating:
“How can we put Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in close proximity for a couple hours and let them work their magic?”
Enter the adapted screenplay by James Agee (who also wrote a top 100 book of all time “A Death in the Family” which I review here). The African Queen is an interesting movie just from the set up alone: about 90% of the movie involves the two main characters floating down a river in a steam boat with the entire focal point on their relationship. There is some window dressing to get them there, but none of it matters. What is important is that Humphrey and Katharine are stuck together and have to work through their differences. This movie explores the classic motif of mismatched lovers using stereotypical traits that are diametrically opposed (messy vs. clean, prude vs. crude, etc.). Thankfully, we have two power houses of Hollywood that end up pushing this ridiculous script along and somehow make a successful go at it.
American Film Institute Ranking: #38/100 Academy Awards: Nominated for seven, including best picture, director and actress, but losing all seven. My Rating:
The story goes that this was a hard movie to get approved to make — those in charge felt like the script’s content and story were too maniacal and didn’t pass the Movie Picture Production Code for moral standards. The characters are indeed awful, and there was more than one time that it made my skin crawl. The set up is a a classic reiteration of trying to commit the perfect murder to collect on an insurance policy, but this time it is a scheme between an unhappy spouse (Phyllis Dietrichson) and an insurance agent (Walter Neff) to knock off her husband. Walter Neff knows how other people have gotten caught in fraudulent claims and comes up with the perfect plan: have his death appear as if it happened on the train and collect double on his insurance policy, otherwise known as double indemnity.