Category Archives: Favorite Films

Music in movies

Moviefone recently published a list of the best music scenes in movies.  Many of the choices I support.  Particularly, I really liked the Tiny Dancer scene from Almost Famous.  However, they left off some essential scenes, and I list some of those here.

Magnolia–the cast sings with Aimee Mann

This is a sprawling, ambitious film.  Director Paul Anderson (also of There Will Be Blood) is not short on vision and style.  Much of this film is rather fast-paced and high-energy.  In this scene, all of the main characters, each of whom is at a relative low-point, stop to sing along with Aimee Mann on the song Wise Up.  It is a powerful scene.  Though not as interesting as the ones following it (think Exodus 8:3).

Goodfellas–Sunshine of Your Love

Jimmy (de Niro) and the gang have just committed the ultimate heist.  Jimmy starts to wonder if he can trust the other guys to keep quiet.  He considers what to do.  The music doesn’t directly relate to the scene. but it fits it well.  De Niro’s acting is top-notch.

Rushmore–revenge

You could easily include one or two each Wes Anderson film on this list.  I include on two.  The first is from my favorite Anderson film.  Max Fischer decides to get revenge on Herman Blume.  War ensues.  The Who track is excellent accompaniment.  (Forgive the spanish dubbing.  This was a good HQ clip.)

Now the end title sequence from The Life Acquatic with Steve Zissou, accompanied by David Bowie.

That last scene is an homage to the end of The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the Eighth Dimension–which is a fun, campy eighties cult flick.

Inglorious Bastards–getting ready

The moviefone list included several Quentin Tarantino films.  Here is my favorite music scene, with another Bowie song.  This annotated clip was the best one I could find.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/15489427″>Sally Menke, Editor (1953 – 2010)</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user2222857″>Jim Emerson</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Casablanca–La Marseillaise

This is the most egregious mistake of the list.  This is one of the greatest scenes in film history.  It is a powerful and stirring scene.  See it here.  The scene ends with one of the funnier lines of the movie.

Paths of Glory–the last song

This is one of the more effective anti-war movies.  It is one of Kubrick’s greatest film (which is saying much).  This film sums up the folly of war as much as any other scene.

And speaking of Kubrick,

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Paris, Texas

Director:  Wim Wenders

USA, 1984

“I knew these people . . .”

A man is found wandering in the wilderness in Texas after disappearing four years previously.  He reunites with his son.  The man then seeks to reunite his son with his mother, realizing he can never again be apart of the family.

That is the basic plot of the film.  It is beautifully told with tender care and acute observation.  It is one of my favorite films.  I have seen it several times, and it haunts me each time I think about it.

Here is probably the best scene of the film.  It takes place toward the end of the story.  The man has tracked down his wife, who is working at a peep show (absolutely no sexual content in this scene, or the movie for that matter).  She doesn’t know who he is (at first).

This scene affects me every time I see it.  I think the dialogue is great.  So simple, yet so poetic.  The lighting and the camerawork and the editing very effectively convey the feeling and the emotion of the scene.  The music (a wonderful score by Ry Cooder) nicely compliments the image.  This is a great example of visual storytelling.

I would highly recommend this film.

Rating: 10/10

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Director:  Carl Th. Dreyer

France, 1927

The Faces.  It is the faces that haunt you.  The faces of the judges are haughty and sanctimonous.  They sneer and despise.  They are fearful and confused.  The faces of the guards are ignorant and crude.  They are leering and mocking.  They are full of cruel, carnal glee as they torment their prey.

And we see the face of Joan–soft, sweet and innocent.  Seldom are we able to peer into such deep and honest emotion as we do when look at the face of Joan, played with such amazing skill by Maria Falconetti.  She shows a vast range of emotion–from fearful to peaceful, from shocked to amazed, from delighted to despondant.  Her face will haunt you for a long time.

The power of this film comes from Dreyer’s incessant use of close-ups.  They have been used many times before and since, but never with more artistic skill.  The film was shot on an elaborate, expense set, but we rarely see it.  Dreyer’s purpose with the film was not to make a period piece.  He did not want to focus on the externals.  He wanted to focus on the emotional and spiritual core of the story.  This is where the close-ups are effective.  By focusing almost solely on the faces, any artiface and distraction is removed.  All we can focus on is the characters and the spiritual struggle taking place.

The film is ostensibly about the conflict between organized religion and personal piety.  It illustrates this with remarkable skill.  However, Dreyer is so skilled he is able to obtain so much more from the story.  He is able to showcase one woman’s courage and devotness during a period of extreme persecution.  This is not an explicity religious film.

This film is generally regarded as one the greatest, if not the greatest, silent films.  It is one of my favorite films.  It is an absolute masterpiece.  Whatever you think of silent films, you should set aside your preconceptions and watch this film.

Rating: 10/10

Brief thoughts on Eternal Sunshine

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Director: Michel Gondry

Writer:  Charlie Kaufman

Charlie Kaufman writes movies with uniquely bizarre premises and utterly human themes.  In Being John Malkovich, he deals with identity, aspirations, and the hard reality of existence.  Adaptation is about the creative struggle and the need to adapt and evolve with the circumstances.  In Synecdoche, New York he presents us with a stylized look at our perception of life and other people.  In Eternal Sunshine he searches through the meaning of love and memory.  All of these descriptions are trite, insufficient, and probably inaccurate.  They are, however, what I recall learning from and seeing in the films.

I just re-viewed Eternal Sunshine.  I think it is his best script, and one of the best scripts of the 00’s.  In all his films, Kaufman is able to create a bizarre world filled with eccentric characters that are surprisingly like each of us.  I have not had to deal with the rise and fall of a relationship like Joel and Clementine do in the movie.  I have had to deal with the peaks and valleys of ones.  I can most certainly understand the place memory holds in our value system.

I recently saw a lecture on the meaning of happiness.  The speaker noted that there are two main types of happiness:  that which comes from experiencing and that which comes from remembering.  This movie very effectively illustrates that there is a disconnect between the two.  The lecturer noted that people who moved from Ohio to California would say that they are happier.  They aren’t.  They remember the hard winters and are comparing their present experience to their memories.  We tend to filter our memories to extremes, either very good or very bad.  We tend to not place emphasis on the middle.

One of the many problems with Joel and Clementine in the movie is that they place more emphasis on present experience rather than memory.  In the end, Joel comes to realize the importance of memory, and its supremacy to the present.  Even though he knows his relationship with Clementine will probably fail, he is will to move ahead, if only for the pleasant memories of pleasant times.

The themes of this movie are similar to the themes of Dark City, another very good movie.  The two might make an interesting double-feature, even though the forms of the movies are very different.

Rating:  9/10

Playtime

Director:  Jacques Tati

France, 1967

Playtime is as unique a movie as I have ever seen.  It is a film that defies description.  As Roger Ebert says, “[It] is one of a kind, complete in itself, a species already extinct at the moment of its birth.”  It was directed by Jacques Tati, hardly well-known today.  He is the direct predecessor of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd.  Tati’s alter ego, M. Hulot, is very similar to those comedy stars of the silent era.

Playtime essentially has no plot.  Rather, it has a series of themes and incidents.  M. Hulot is a character in it, at least on the periphery.  He has traveled to Paris (an ultra-modernized Paris completely of Tati’s imagination) for some sort of business meeting.  What type of meeting it is is rather unclear, and totally irrelevant.  Hulot is just one of many recurring characters in the film.  We are not supposed to know much about them.  They are just part of the landscape that Tati paints.

The comedy that Tati employs throughout the film is far from the physical comedy of the aforementioned filmmakers.  The film is full of sight gags, many of which are readily apparent.  At one point, an American tourist wanders in a building and looks at a travel poster advertising London.  In the picture we see a large, rectangular building with a London-ish double-decker bus in front.  She then walks outside and sees the exact same scene, a large, rectangular building (identical to the one in the building) and a bus (this time a green Paris-ish bus) in front.  At a restaurant, a glass door breaks.  The doorman quickly picks up the handle and pretends to open the door for the customers, even takes tips from them.  Toward the end of the movie, a number of cars travel around a traffic circle while carnival music plays.  All the cars stop.  After a man places a coin in a parking meter, all the cars start moving again.

I really enjoyed this film, though it isn’t easily accessible.  It is pure cinema, to use Hitchcock’s phrase.  That is, it relies solely on images to tell the story, or in this case, stories.  There is almost no dialog.  What dialog there is is completely superfluous.  Someone compared it to 2001, though Playtime has actually less dialog than that.  Most of the scenes are shot from a distance.  There are no close-ups, and very few medium shots.  You are able to see far too much in each scene.  This technique requires you to be observant, as we are not told what to look at.  Many critics have noted that you need to watch this film several times in order to contemplate all there is to contemplate.

One of the main themes is the affect that modern technology has on man, vice-versa.  I was reminded of the writings of Neil Postman, who spoke often of how technology changes the way we view the world.  In Playtime, technology, specifically architecture, determines much about how the characters act.  It is a Huxleyan future, one where people are lulled into ambivalence.

There are many aspects of this film that cause you to think.  There are also many aspects that cause you to smile.  Often, the same part of the film accomplishes both.  That is one mark of a great film, one that entertains while it enlightens.  If you are willing to give it your time, it can reward you greatly.

Rating:  9/10