Thursday, September 2, 2010

My Favorites - Cinema

Forget the introductory prattle, let's get to the point. In chronological production year order:

My mother would put on classical music instead of singing lullabys so seeing familiar music scores play on screen Disney-style really blew me away when I was a kid. Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony wasn't so boring any more, and I was introduced to Mussorgsky.

I love musicals. I love Gene Kelly. I love musicals with Gene Kelly. Singin' in the Rain didn't have as much impact on me as this movie did. The choreography was mesmerizing, the scenery was stunning, Gershwin's music was captivating, Leslie Caron was such an unconventional beauty (in my young eyes) with such lovely movements, and that dream-like ballet sequence? I can watch it over and over again.
Although I can't say that this movie is the reason why I dreamt of being in Paris some day, I do have to say it did play a major role.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

This is probably the first "grown-up" movie I've ever seen. I think I was around nine. It was playing on TV one night and I don't think my parents were paying much attention to what I was watching; I saw the whole thing without interruption. I really didn't understand what was going on, either. All I saw was that Elizabeth Taylor was incredibly beautiful in her slip, Paul Newman a handsome alcoholic, Burl Ives an American version of a Korean patriarch, and that all of them were caught up in a sense of incurable despair. The complexity of adult relationships and problems was intriguing - I really wanted to understand why Newman was drinking so much - so I kept rewatching the film whenever I had the chance.

I read Tennessee William's original play years later, but the movie was so firmly implanted in my mind that I couldn't imagine the characters any differently. Although A Streetcar named Desire may be called Williams' masterpiece, I find this play (and movie) much more interesting.

The Sound of Music (1965)

I know. Sappy, sappy, sappy. But this was my favorite movie when I was seven and it just stuck around, mostly because of familiarity. I know all the lyrics from every single song of the soundtrack except for the yodel one. (I can't yodel.) When I went on the guided tour of the filming locations in Salzburg, everyone on the tour bus was singing along so I know I'm not the only nerd out there.
Pet peeve: how in tarnation could the Von Trapps cross the Alps on foot? Even as a kid I thought it absolutely preposterous.

Bless the Beasts & Children (1971)

The title soundtrack is more well known than the actual movie, but along with Dead Poet's Society, I'd say this is one of the best coming-of-age movies. You know how there are instants in life when you realize a certain chapter of your life is over? The revelation that your childhood is over may be the most memorable moment and watching a raw portrayal of that moment is equally moving.

Everyone who had a crush on Han Solo, put your hands up! (Gah, my pre-teen self had such a crush. I still think he's hot.) Don't care for any of the sequels nor prequels, this is the one and only. Never understood Leia's double-bun hairdo, though.

Cliché. Can't help it. What's a movie list without the Brat Pack? Who cares if all the characters are blatant stereotypes? Teen angst is universal.
(Their detention looked mild and even fun to my Christian school attending eyes - we were sent to prayer room after class to kneel and pray for forgiveness for hours under the supervision of the hawk-eye Bible teacher. It was hard not to fall asleep, not to mention the legs turning numb after a while.)

Bagdad Cafe (1987)

The theme song is profoundly beautiful, I can visualize the cafe inside and out, the first and last scenes are etched clearly in my memory. Happiness isn't a big deal, is it? A job, a hobby, friends with whom to share laughs and tears, a bit of music and some coffee. Would that life was that simple.

Beetlejuice (1988)

Day-O! Da-a-a-ay O! Daylight come and me wanna go home! I just love that dinner scene. If I had a group of friends who were willing, it's a scene that I would like to recreate at a fancy-schmancy restaurant, flash mob style. Instead of dispersing, we'd resume eating like absolutely nothing has happened.
The simple fact that the story revolves around a clueless ghost couple who are totally inept at haunting is enough to keep me entertained. After all these years, this is still my favorite Tim Burton movie. (Am I the only one who was bitterly disappointed with Alice in Wonderland? Such a waste of pretty cinematography.)


Léon (1994)

Besson is another cliché director that I like. (Burton, Tarantino being the others.) Le Grand Bleu was the first Besson film that I saw, which prompted me to see Subway. I like both movies, but it was the characters in Nikita and Léon that made me care, that made me watch the movies repeatedly. Nikita and Léon are both unusual characters to be what they are doing but their vulnerability seems plausible and convincing, and not just a quirk for dramatic effect.

The genius of editing. I had never seen a movie with a non-chronological order of events that wasn't dream sequences, so the story and acting and soundtrack all aside, it was the editing that completely bowled me over. There isn't a single lagging moment, your attention is caught at all times, yet it's not as if you have to hold your breath the whole time either.
Great dialogue, great timing, great casting. So much lighter than Reservoir Dogs (which, although a great movie, made me endlessly cringe when I saw it), yet with enough of the impact. Liked the movie so much I cosplayed as Mia Wallace for several years, reenacting the dance scene at events and parties. (Incredibly easy costume, all I needed was tons of heavy makeup - I already had the haircut.)

A teenager asked me last year what the fuss was about Wong Kar Wai. "There's nothing special" was the comment. "It was back then" was my reply. Days of Being Wild was released in 1990, which was followed by Chungking Express in 1994, when Wong's lush, highly stylized cinematography in Asian color palettes was refreshing and unique; I immediately fell in love. (There has been a gazillion music videos made in similar styles since then.)
Fallen Angels is my favorite. Disillusion, emotional detachment, wandering endlessly in the city night, self contemplation, people all linked together unbeknownst, obsession and cans of pineapples. All angels, all fallen. Such and so we are.

If I had to take one movie to a deserted island, this is the one. People living on the edge. Music. Mindgames. Guns. Spiritual families. Fragile, yet badass characters. Hope within the boundaries of reality.
Love Letter may be the most popular among Iwai Shunji's work, but I prefer his darker films - All about Lily Chou Chou is my second choice.

Black Cat, White Cat (1998)

Kusturica's movies are so intricately woven in bright colors that watching them is like trying to decipher secret messages in layers and layers of silk tapestry. There is always another story lurking within a story. Love, death, marriage, crime all come together in a puzzling farcical way, but since life isn't ruled by logical series of circumstance, this movie just may be more realistic than a heavily edited documentary. Every single moment is interesting.

Fight Club (1999)

I once heard that if you can name detailed reasons why you love a certain person, that you really weren't in love because "true" love is blind and unconditional so you shouldn't completely understand why. This explains how I feel about this movie. I have difficulty trying to express why I like it so much, I just do. The plot, storytelling, cinematography, characters/actors, editing, everything.

Attack the Gas Station (주유소 습격사건, 1999)

A comedy, but not without depth. Koreans carry a lot of baggage. Our darn long history of suffering and pain, and the emphasis in history class on that darn long history of suffering and pain reminds us every single day of our lives that we are a people with a lot of baggage, that it somehow defines us, we are taught to embrace that pain as a driving force ; a character trait for a whole country. Consequently the individual tends to get lost, which means that there are many people who are completely screwed up.
Four screw-ups decide to rob a gas station in the middle of the night but things don't go as planned as a whole deluge of people turn up to inadverdently foil their plans (Seoul is the true city that never sleeps) in pausible but comical situations, and you realize that everyone's life is screwed up in one way or another, it's just a matter of how you deal with it.

Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (2001)

Although I would like to deny it, I'm a complicated person. My mind is constantly running, even at night when I'm supposed to be sleeping; my dreams can rival those in Inception, there are so many layers that sometimes I wake up with a headache.
So that's why Amélie is positively charming. She finds joy in the most simple things in life. She enjoys the moments. And when she thought she needed something more, she set out to find it, and she did. What else do you need in life, really?
The cinematography is just so pretty and makes me nostalgic for Paris.

Memories of Murder (2003)

Now this is a movie. The best of Korean cinema. Oldboy is for those hardcore cinema buffs, My Sassy Girl for those who appreciate Korean comedy, but Memories will probably cover all types of cinema-goers. Based on the true unsolved Hwaseong serial murders in the 1980s, the movie portrays many aspects of the society during those years; the good, the bad, and the ugly that we would like to forget. The cinematography is beautiful, the acting superb, the storytelling raw but not too bone-gnawing to be uneasy and disturbing. Excellent in all aspects.

Stranger than Fiction (2006)

I watched this movie purely by accident. It was playing on TV and I only stopped from switching channels because Emma Thompson was in it. She was playing a writer. With writer's block. Whose writing is far closer to reality than fiction. My attention was immediately caught. I was surprised to discover Will Ferrell quite convincing, with no shadows of his former comic characters. The movie moves at a steady, non-rushing pace, with no predictable dramatic peaks nor pauses - like life.

Take the most twisted emotional dilemma that you have felt and multiply it over and over, you might get what the protagonist in this film is going through. It's something I can't truly understand, tangles of mind and heart of that proportion; absolutely fascinating. And I swear I don't like this movie just because Tony Leung is drop dead sexy in it.

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Spanish Buzz! Badass Barbie! Do you need to say more? An absolutely perfect ending to a trilogy that didn't have a single lame chapter. Made me want all my childhood toys back again.

I realized while compiling this that I have very conventional taste when it comes to movies. Had I made a 'best' list perhaps it would have been a different selection, but 'favorite' doesn't necessarily mean 'films with notable artistic and/or entertainment value' so the list is what it is.

Shortlist: Giant (1956), Blade Runner (1982), Paris, Texas (1984), Back to the Future (1985), The Nightmare before Christmas (1993), The Scent of Green Papaya (1993), Green Fish (초록 물고기, 1997), The Incredibles (2004),

Notably omitted? The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series. The LOTR movies are extremely well made but I don't find myself freely immersing into them as much as the book. As for the HP series, absolutely none of the HP movies are memorable to me, despite my being a hardcore Harry Potter geek. I see every single movie as it comes out and adore the cast, but cinematic value-wise? Nope.


Carlo-tony said...

Great selection of movies. I'll have to rent some I haven't seen.

A recent crime/suspense/detective movie I enjoyed, but didn't get much play-- American title- The Mind of a Killer, Euro title- The Alzheimer's Case [Belgian]. Shocking, and humourously off-the-wall, in places, but what can ah say? Some redemption for us auld birds...

seoulsuzy said...

Crime movies are tricky to select. Some of them are way too realistic for me. Will look into the film, thanks for the suggestion.