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Something to Fill Your Time

Here's a hint to get you started.

How about a little between screening activity??? It’s harder than you’d think.

Can you name the American Film Institute’s Top 100 American Movies (2007)? – sporcle.

Categories: Random Film Discussion Tags: , ,
  1. November 18, 2009 at 1:03 PM

    Since Citizen Kane is #1, I’d like to know if there is anyone out
    there who disagrees with that movie being #1. I just wonder what
    movie you think should BE #1 above Kane.

    • November 18, 2009 at 3:07 PM

      I may be a ringer here since I just finished The Making of Citizen Kane by Robert Carringer (awesome… get it) and the first volume of Simon Callow’s Orson Welles biography that ends with Citizen Kane last week. I’ll try to keep it short, but I’m feeling a little cocky about my new, if fleeting, knowledge.

      As far as technical achievements, it’s hard to argue against Citizen Kane. While cinematographer Gregg Toland experimented with lighting and deep focus before this, Welles really offered him a playground in which to go nuts. In fact, Welles pushed all parties, lighting, set design, sound design, and special effects, well beyond the breaking point for many (Welles the artist was highly respected by the crew, but many didn’t like Welles the man). Even Bernard Hermann worked in unusual circumstances, writing the score while the film was still shooting.

      It’s a testament to how far Welles took his production that much of Hollywood, already peeved by his unprecedented contract, rejected his new style of cinema. It completely bucked the conventions already established by years of filmmaking. This, as much as Hearst’s sway, greatly affected Citizen Kane’s success at the box office and at the Academy Awards.

      The screenplay, in my eyes, is the weakest aspect of the film (which isn’t saying much because it’s use of flashback and contradicting perspectives is pretty phenomenal).

      It took until the 50s for Citizen Kane to be recognized much at all for the achievement it is, much thanks to the French critics of the time.

      As for me, there are other Welles films that I like better (foreshadowing?) and if overall enjoyment is the defining factor, then no, I don’t think it’s the best film ever, though I do think the best film should show some legs over time. I submit the following for consideration:
      The Best Years of Our Lives
      The Bridge on the River Kwai
      Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
      The General
      La grand illusion
      Rear Window

      For the record, I lean to Dr. Strangelove.

  2. HatchBack
    November 18, 2009 at 4:21 PM

    Nate articulated perfectly the Film Studies answer to your question, Paul. And of course, I agree with most everything he says. I would only add that the meshing of genres in Citizen Kane is what really sets it apart, historically, from other films.

    My take on film is based almost entirely in an intense historical understanding. I’m much more in tune to the films that paved the way for all other films, in terms of “best film of all time.” Welles defined modern filmmaking, but a great deal of other directors had the same kind of influence. I think the difference with Kane is the sheer magnitude of the influence. It, as Nate states, paved the way in almost every single aspect of narrative cinema.

    Personally, I adore Citizen Kane. I think it’s perfectly crafted and a very obvious labor of love and devotion. Almost, as cliche as this sounds, a love letter to cinema.

    In terms of best film of all time? I am allowed to go international? By far the film that I think encapsulates what cinema is, and why we are enamored, enthralled and thrilled by it is Chris Marker’s short film La Jetee. It’s only 20 minutes long, but it utilizes an interesting narrative with an equally thrilling use of still images climaxing in a single moving image. It’s by far the best example, for me, of what cinema is and why I love it so.

    I agree with Nate on a couple of his nominations, Years of Our Lives, Strangelove and The General. I would probably choose Psycho over Window. Others I’d throw out there are:
    Gone With the Wind
    Sunset Boulevard (Hollywood loves to make moves about Hollywood)
    The Apartment

    GWTW is hands down my fave.

  3. johnwm1
    November 18, 2009 at 8:30 PM

    Since Citizen Kane broke new ground on so many levels, as mentioned above, I think it deserves topping so many “Best Movies Ever!” lists. However, and this is a minor complaint, Citizen Kane always struck me as a bit clinical. It’s a fascinating character study, but I agree that its technical achievements are more monumental than the story itself.

    However, as far as alternatives for #1, I heartily support Nate’s nominations of The Grand Illusion and The Bridge on the River Kwai (especially The Grand Illusion…amazing film). I’d also add Casablanca and, yes, this Sunday’s The Third Man. Strangers on a Train and Shadow of a Doubt top my Hitchcock best-of list. I have a feeling All Quiet on the Western Front would also be in my list; I just have to see it first. Judging by some of the other films mentioned here, I really need to see more highly well-regarded films.

    If I had to pick one…probably Casablanca.

    Also, and this may be a topic for a separate discussion, but what is it about the WWII era that spawned so many timeless films? Or is it just wartime in general that is fertile ground for movies to comment on the human condition with a great story, characters, etc.?

    • November 19, 2009 at 2:59 PM

      John, you’ve come to the right place to get some motivation to watch well-regarded films…that’s why I’m here too.

      • johnwm1
        November 19, 2009 at 5:09 PM

        Indeed. Sunday Screenings is the ideal prescription for anybody feeling symptoms of lack of classic movie watching. There is probably a snazzier way to put that tagline, but it’s nearing the end of the workday for me and I can’t think of one now.

  4. November 19, 2009 at 1:07 AM

    I was thinking about what exactly puts a movie in the running for greatest ever. Is it the technological aspects? The screenwriting? The acting? The message? Certainly, it’s all of these things, but they are definitely weighted differently for all movies. If you take a look at all of the films suggested, There is typically a standout element for most of them (though screenwriting and acting are sometimes inseparable).

    One of my issues with selecting films the did technical thing before anyone else is that SOMEONE would have done it eventually. Kane stands out because it did all technical things differently instead of doing it the “baby steps” way.

    My question is what do you look for in a great movie? What speaks to you about your nominations for greatest film?

    • johnwm1
      November 19, 2009 at 5:06 PM

      Great questions Nate. A good story well told has been my simple (perhaps simplistic) definition of what makes a good movie. The “well told” part is where all the direction and technical aspects come in, and the “good story” is obviously the quality of a screenplay.

      But what elevates a good movie to being great, you (and I) ask? I’ll take a stab at this, although admittedly this is a toughie. I think that the standout element in most of the films I suggested, at least, is the emotional pull of the movie. These films all deal with “the human condition” in a rather direct way, and they’re successful in commenting on that primarily through the struggles and conflict the characters go through (as opposed to characters simply stating themes or messages in the dialogue). Shit happens to them, we care about them, we feel for them, and suddenly we’re in the story and feel like we’ve gone through an important experience.

      But, I may be revealing a slight bias in that response because that’s what I personally look for in a great film: if the story and characters engage my emotions in an honest way (as opposed to a cloying, trite, overly sentimental way). That’s maybe why I wouldn’t put Citizen Kane as #1 on a greatest movie of all time list, if I were to make one up, since I feel a bit detached when I watch that movie (not to knock it again, because I do feel it is a truly outstanding film for the reasons Nate and others have mentioned). Casablanca, and The Grand Illusion, Best Years of Our Lives, Bridge on the River Kwai, etc., remind me of what it means to be human in a more emotionally stirring way. I think these films have had such an impact on audiences and critics alike because of this universal aspect. As for where the more technical aspects/achievements of great films fit into all of this, I’d say they are definitely, hugely important, since they are often what enable a screenplay that has a great story and characters to be successful when it’s used as a blueprint for a movie.

      A jumble of thoughts here, but as I said, this is a tough nut to crack. I’ll stop here for now.

    • November 20, 2009 at 9:22 AM

      Me and my friend Daniel were talking about this yesterday. I think it’s a two pronged approach. 1) What does the movie bring to the Canon of film. 2) The films ability to seem timeless. Not quite sure how to quantify either of those, which is why the whole #1 movie debate is such a debate. A lot of it comes down to taste and personal opinion.

      That said, I still think that Citizen Kane is deserving of it’s spot at the top of the list. I think it’s hard for us to comprehend all the things it did that are still being used in the medium. Would many of the movies that are regarded as great have happened if Citizen Kane never happened? It’s hard to say, but it’s something you have to think about when judging movies.

  5. November 20, 2009 at 12:15 PM

    I still think that all the changes we’ve seen in the wake of Kane would have happened anyway, if a little slower. It’s the same with any technological improvements. Someone will take the lead, and if not them, someone else. But like I said, since Kane did it all at the same time, it makes it pretty exceptional.

  6. hatchback
    November 20, 2009 at 2:40 PM

    Favorite films, and thus a #1 film, are so steeped in personal opinion it’s almost difficult to quantify what makes a film “the best film of all time.” Of course, the reason I cited La Jetee as my #1 film is because it really touched me. It’s haunted me almost daily since the first time I ever witnessed it. It really articulated perfectly, to me, what film is capable of doing.

    Similarly, the very personal attachment I have to any film that can be denoted as “epic” (and any novel) is completely personal preference. The best example of this is of course Gone With the Wind. The sheer magnitude of this film bowled me over, and continues to compel me to dig into all aspects of the narrative to find what is really so attractive to me about it.

    Further, I agree with you, Nate, that these technological advancements would have been made, albeit much slower without the juggernaut that was Orson Welles. And I do think Kane deserves to be at the top of the list. I think to a point, John, that you are meant to feel detached from Kane. I mean, in the end, isn’t that the thesis of the film? That we, and all the interviewed characters, were completely removed from Kane as a human being? The sled is the twist that reveals our ignorance of the great Charles Foster Kane.

    I think Kane will always be thought of as #1 because of its historical significance to film making. That being said, so is most of AFI’s top 100. Almost all of those films are incredibly important in the history of American film. However, my list of “best films ever” is so very personal, as all art essentially is, that it’s almost impossible for me to really articulate what makes me love it. I guess it’s the “human interest” stuff, but it’s also the images, the pace and the rhythm of the film.

    And admittedly, there are a great deal of films on the top 100 list I can’t stand. Notably Casablanca (sorry John!).

    • November 21, 2009 at 2:10 AM

      Man, hatchback (I’ll go by your alias in case you are hiding from someone), you really have it out for John in that post. I think you are onto something with the feeling alienation from Kane being kind of the point. However, it’s always a risk in doing that since, as you also discuss, there is an inherent emotional reaction to film (and all other art, I suppose). What endears one person to a film can be the exact thing that pushes another away. Not a groundbreaking thought, by any means (Holy cow! People have different opinions! Lead us to the promised land, Nate!), but it’s what makes this whole discussion fun.

      And I have to side with John on Casablanca. I like just about every second of that film.

    • johnwm1
      November 22, 2009 at 10:57 PM

      I’m shocked, shocked by hatchback’s assessment of Casablanca (not really, I just wanted to work in an example of Casablanca’s dialogue in my response).

      My list of favorite films, and my list of films I’d consider to be among the greatest, are completely different. My favorite film are usually movies I identify with in some way, or had a huge influence on me when growing up. For some reason, none of these films are those that I consider to be among the best examples of the medium, in terms of their place in film history. But I agree that while there is an attempt to be more objective in the latter list, you ultimately can’t get away from personal likes/dislikes.

      That is an interesting point about feeling detached from Citizen Kane intentionally. I also agree there’s a risk there, but it adds a new layer of meaning to the film I hadn’t considered before.

  7. November 22, 2009 at 11:23 PM

    It’s interesting that we feel the need to make a distinction between the our favorite films and the greatest films, but everyone does it (try as I might, no one buys into The Emperor’s New Groove as being one of the best ever). For as much tangible back up we have to support the greatest, whether they were pioneering, the best at certain aspects of production, emotionally resonant, whatever, there seems to me an equally valid approach that analyzes the minds reaction to a film.

    This is going to be a bit abstract, but some films resonate on a totally different level that’s impossible to quantify. Who’s to say that some dumb comedy or cheesy horror movie isn’t, on some subconscious level, doing something to our brains that no other movie does as well? Certainly, this synaptic responses have something to do with editing, sound design, and stuff like that, but many of the classic horror movies do great things with editing and using atmosphere to create unease. Just look at the original Evil Dead.

    In these cases, I think that acting is what predominantly deducts points from discussion (well, acting and set design, but can you hold budget against a movie? I say no). People underestimate how hard it is to play scared or to be funny.

    Anyway, I don’t know if I totally buy into what I’m saying myself, but I do think there are other ways to be discovered to evaluate a film’s worth that aren’t measurable or emotional.

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