Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Favorite Post-1980 Films

A list of the best movies I have seen since 1980. Why 1980? Because I said so.

Philip Baker Hall as Sydney, retired hit man. What a voice!

1: THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Finest movie of the lot, I figure. The best unfolding of a protagonist I've ever witnessed in a film. Pure brilliance all around...director, cinemaphotographer, actors, etc. What made the film for me? Daniel Plainview. As a man, both admirable and horrifying.

Genius at work, all around.

2: BLADE RUNNER. Before THERE WILL BE BLOOD, this was my all-time favorite film. Everything meshes in this one. The imagined world is synchronized perfectly, the logic flawless. I've read that some scenes were cut from the movie, for the better, I feel, if interviews with actor Joe Turkel are correct. As it stands, the movie is pure genius all around. I can't say enough good things about it. The clincher for me from being merely a good movie to one of a great work of art was the performance of Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty.

A brief moment of Rutger Hauer's stunning performance.

3: BLUE VELVET. For years I couldn't decide if I liked this film better than I liked BLADE RUNNER. For whatever reason, I settled on placing this one in the #3 spot. David Lynch hit his stride as a filmmaker with this movie. Again, there's nothing about it that I could even begin to criticize. It's so rare for me to experience a movie that I find to be perfect in every way. This is one such film and every time I see it I am amazed at the perfection of it.

A truly human villain.

4: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. For years, my favorite contemporary American writer was Cormac McCarthy. No one translated the experience of the USA so simply and so brutally as McCarthy. I've written before that I liked him best when he was something like a secret discovery for me. Few people seemed to know who he was when I mentioned his work. Things changed, of course, when the Coen Brothers produced this bit of brilliance. The script and the acting are--once again--flawless. The stars of the movie are shown just enough and perfectly, and the character actors mesh well with the continuity of the story.

A version of Satan worthy of John Milton's original vision.

5: O, BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?. Yeah, a comedy. But it's more than a comedy for us all. Here is modern American history laid out with humor and with pathos. Another stroke of genius from the Coen Brothers. Packed cheek by jowl with great lines and even greater scenes. I could likely fill this list with Coen Brothers movies.

Cyclops was never so much fun or more accurately portrayed.

6: HARD EIGHT. One thing I love in a good film is how characters with whom one would not wish to spend any time at all in real life can be made to be not just interesting, but sympathetic. Here we are treated to a protagonist who is a retired hit-man for the mob, a near-brainless drifter and inept con artist as his adopted ward, a stupid prostitute as girlfriend of the ward, and Samuel L. Jackson doing a turn as a head of security who is far more stupid than he seems. Not a decent person in the lot, really, but you end up having a great time with them.

Just perfect.

7: THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Goddamn, I'm sorry, but I have to put another Coen Brothers creation here. This film is, without any doubt whatsoever, the funniest damned movie I have ever seen. In a very twisted sort of way, it's like a diseased and horrible version of a classic I LOVE LUCY episode. One misinterpretation and misunderstanding follows another until nothing is left but the ability to laugh at what is going on. There is not a wasted second in this movie, and the parade of fine actors is astounding. This movie is one reason that I hold John Goodman in such high regard as an actor. This film, and BARTON FINK which is another Coen Brother movie but I'm not going to give those brilliant fuckers another chance to make my top-ten list.

Funniest movie. Ever.
Ever, dude.

8: THE STRAIGHT STORY. Directed by David Lynch. But frankly, if you're a fan of his more experimental work, you'd never know it. I love this one. It's a movie about regular people who are not rich, are not powerful, are not terribly smart. It is based on the true story of Alvin Straight who drove a riding lawnmower for many hundreds of miles so that he could see his brother one last time before he died. There is more emotion and power packed into this little film than in any thousand big-budget efforts out of Hollywood. The star, Richard Farnsworth, actually was dying when the film was produced, adding more than we could ever know to the power of his performance.

The bar scene. Amazing.

9: DOWN BY LAW. Jim Jarmusch is another one of my favorite directors. I don't know if any of his films have broken out to be big moneymakers, but I will assume that his financiers are happy with the returns because he does seem to keep making movies. This one is effective as both a drama and a comedy, dealing as it does with three total losers who end up escaping from prison in a Louisiana swamp. The  first time I saw it I kept expecting one or more of the characters to do something horrible, for the film to become what most American prison movies end up being. But the characters end up not being monsters at all, but just relatively decent human beings who only want their freedom without hurting anyone. It's a great little movie.

The treasure is in the details.

And there I'll end my list. I don't feel like finishing it off as a top ten. Fuck it. Be happy I let you know what my top nine favorites are.


MarkGelbart said...

No Country for Old Men was one of the worst movies I ever saw in my life.

It was so boring, I wanted to pull it out of the DVD machine after about 20 minutes. Because it won an Oscar, I stayed with it and ended up wasting over 2 hours of my life.

It was incoherent and had no ending.

The Coen brothers and Cormac McCarthy are not my cup of tea, that's for sure.

HemlockMan said...


Lawrence Roy Aiken said...

My take on why some people have nigh-violent reactions to Coen movies is that they're domestic filmmakers making foreign movies on U.S. soil with U.S. subjects, etc. Their movies have a "foreign" feel to them inasmuch as they're very self-consciously and meticulously made against the grain of narrative your average American is used to.

HemlockMan said...

When the Coen Brothers are hitting on all cylinders, their efforts are the best around. They do misfire from time to time. I didn't care for THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE and I really did not like their remake of the British classic, THE LADY KILLERS. They really dropped the ball on both of those.

For some reason, I have yet to see A SERIOUS MAN. As two Jewish guys making the best American movies about Americans (in general) I was waiting for them to make a film about American Jews.