The 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen

BOOK: The 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen
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The 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen

RICHARD CROUSE

ECW PRESS

ECW PRESS

Copyright © Richard Crouse, 2003

Published by ECW Press

2120 Queen Street East, Suite 200, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4E 1E2

416.694.3348 / [email protected]

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any process — electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise — without the prior written permission of the copyright owners and ECW Press.

NATIONAL LIBRARY OF CANADA CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION

Crouse, Richard, 1963-

The 100 best movies you've never seen / Richard Crouse.

ISBN 13: 978-1-55022-590-7

ISBN 10: 1-55022-590-1

1. Motion pictures. i. Title. ii. Title: One hundred best movies you've never seen.

PN1993.5. A1C86 2003 791.43 C2003-902185-8

Editor: Jennifer Hale

Cover and Text Design: Tania Craan

Cover Photographs: Richard Beland

Production & Typesetting: Mary Bowness

Second Printing: Transcontinental

This book is set in Akzidenz Grotesk and Minion

The publication of
The 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen
has been generously supported by the Canada Council, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program.

Printed and Bound in Canada

Introduction
“YOU'VE GOT HATE MAIL”

It is almost impossible to gauge how people are going to react to things you say. An innocent little remark can trigger a whole cascade of events. Such was the case a few years ago when I introduced a segment on
Reel to Real
's favorite martial arts movies with, “I have to admit, martial arts films are a guilty pleasure of mine.”

I recall the shoot day. It was a steamy hot August afternoon. We were shooting outside and I was cooking inside my suit. We banged off the intro in one take, and I didn't think about it again. Well, not until I received the most aggressively angry letter I have ever gotten — possibly one of the most hateful, profanity-laced pieces of mail to ever make its way into my, or anybody else's, inbox. Everyone in the public eye has gotten them. Usually the subject line reads something like “What were you thinking?” or occasionally the blunt “You are wrong.”

This one was different. I knew I was in trouble when I read the subject line: richard is a snob. Clearly, subtlety was not this writer's strong point. What her letter lacked in sophistication, it made up in vitriol. Here's the breakdown: After spending a paragraph or so calling me some not-so-nice names and questioning my ability to review movies, she got to the point. She was offended by my use of the term “guilty pleasure.” “What? Can't he just say he enjoys martial arts films? Why do they have to be a ‘guilty pleasure'? I really don't think he would say something like ‘I have to admit, those Fellini films are a guilty pleasure of mine.'”

The unladylike dispatch went on to describe me as pretentious and several other things that aren't fit to print here, before insisting that I respond. I did reply, although I'm not sure she received the kind of answer she was looking for. Her letter was clearly designed to offend and upset; instead, I have to admit I found it rather funny. I was frankly tickled that something I had said on television could elicit such venomous feedback. As Frank Zappa said, “It doesn't matter what kind of reaction you get, as long as you get a reaction.” In my response I thanked her for the letter and explained that I enjoy a wide variety of movies, not just Fellini. I like Fellini; I think
8½
is a great film, almost as good as another favorite of mine,
The Poseidon Adventure
. You see, I explained, I have to see between 300 and 325 movies a year for my job, and when I sit down to view something that I am not professionally obligated to watch I consider that a treat — a guilty pleasure. I listed a few of the movies that I always turn to in my off hours —
The Bad and the Beautiful
,
Cane Toads: An Unnatural History
, and
Here Comes Mr. Jordan
— explaining why I liked each of them. I decided not to attack her in any way, but to kill her with kindness.

I'm not sure what effect my e-mail had on her, as I never heard from her again. I do, however, owe her a debt of gratitude. Her nasty letter got me thinking about all the movies that I love — my guilty pleasures — which led directly to the writing of this book. There were only two criteria for the movies included in this book — they had to be underrated and they had to be personal favorites of mine. These aren't really obscure movies — most are available on DVD or video, although you might need a police dog to find some of them — they are just films you might have missed the first time around. If she hadn't written that letter, I wouldn't have written this book. So it is to her, the pissed-off viewer, that I dedicate this book.

I also would like to extend a personal thanks to:

Dara Rowland; Jen Hale; Jack David; Tania Craan; Richard Beland; Andrea Bodnar; Vincent Monteleone; Stephen Peter Smith; Zacharius Kunuk; Norman Cohn; Ryan Gosling; Barry Blaustein; Forrest J. Ackerman; Nick Broomfield; Bruce Campbell; Don Coscarelli; Bill Wyman; Peter Lynch; Rob Sitch; Oliver Hirschbiegel; Jim Jarmusch; Emily Perkins; Katharine Isabelle; John Turturro; Christopher Heard; Jenn Kennedy; Denis Villeneuve; Hampton Fancher; Mira Nair; Cole Hauser; Vin Diesel; Tom Tykwer; Franka Potente; Andrew Niccol; Lloyd Kaufman; William Phillips; David Hewlett; Ron Mann; Raymond DeFelitta; Sofia Coppola; Gary Burns; Frances, Carol, Wini, and everyone else at Southern Accent; Charles Wechsler; Bryan Peters; Kai Black; David Carroll; Brent Bambury; Kathleen Scheibling; Julia Caslin; Susan Smythe; Laura Quinn; Virginia Kelly; Nancy Yu; Bonnie Smith; Karen Neilson; Sherman Pau; Mark Pauderis; Shelly Chagnon; Julie Vaillancourt; Peter Lynch; Bill Phillips; Katrina Soukup; Jason at Rhino Home Video; Tim Goldberg; Paul Kemp; The Chiodo Brothers; Shelly at Starway International; John Bain; Max Films; Ron Mann; Andrew Currie; Kevin Hall; Rod Guidino and
Rue Morgue
magazine; Mike Scott; and Michael Fleisher at Anchor Bay Entertainment.

The 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen
THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984)

“May I pass along my congratulations for your great interdimensional breakthrough. I am sure, in the miserable annals of the Earth, you will be duly enshrined.”

— Lord John Whorfin (John Lithgow)

You wanna talk multi-tasking? Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) must be the busiest renaissance man in the galaxy, listing not only rock star and comic book hero on his resumé, but also race car driver, samurai, and of course, world famous neurosurgeon.

In the opening moments of this, the first in a proposed series of
Banzai
movies, Buckaroo is giving his latest invention, something called an Oscillation Overthruster, a test run. As he drives his newfangled Jet Car through a solid rock face he enters the 8th dimension. Once there he encounters the wicked Red Lectiods from Planet 10, who were banished to the 8th dimension and now see a way out through Buckaroo's technology. While Buckaroo is wowing the ladies and performing with his band, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, the Lectiods (all named John, strangely enough) plan to steal the Overthruster to escape their earthly prison and do battle with their sworn enemies, the Black Lectiods. The Black Lectiods respond by threatening to unleash a nuclear war, which would not only devastate the Red Lectiods, but earth as well. Life as we know it could go up in a huge mushroom cloud unless Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers step in to save the day.

It's a wild ride, and one that motors along at such a clip that it demands your attention, or you'll get hopelessly lost in the confusing

story. The muddled plot may be the reason that the proposed sequels never materialized, or maybe it is as Weller says, “It just didn't get the press or publicity it needed. The picture got lost in the shuffle.” At any rate, audiences in 1984 stayed away. Since then it has gained a cult following, no doubt driven by fans of the
Robocop
movies, a character Weller originated.

Buckaroo Weller is stoic, delivering lines like “Remember, no matter where you go, there you are,” with a mock seriousness that borders on camp. It's a nice balance to John Lithgow as the insidious Dr. Emilio Lizardo/Lord John Whorfin, a performance so over-the-top that it borders on insanity. The movie is great fun to watch. A strong supporting cast includes Ellen Barkin as the maudlin Penny Priddy, Jeff Goldblum as Banzai's medical colleague with the unlikely name of New Jersey, and Christopher Lloyd as John Bigboote.

Poor box office receipts killed any chance of 20th Century Fox turning
Buckaroo Banzai
into a franchise, but rumors persist that a sequel might be made someday, or possibly even a television series. “Your guess is as good as mine,” says Weller. “The director is hiding out in Boston somewhere, the guy that owned the rights shot himself in a hotel room in Century City, and the rest of us have gone on to happy lives. We've all been approached a hundred times, and I'd certainly do it if it all came together — I don't understand the movie myself, but people love it . . . we'll see.”

ANNIGONI: PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST (1995)

“If you can draw, you can paint.”

— Pietro Annigoni

When documentary filmmakers Richard Bond and Stephen Peter Smith were filming in the Cathedral of Santo Antonio in Padova, Italy, a curious thing happened. They were there to shoot Pietro Annigoni's final fresco from the walls of the great cathedral when a wizened old man approached them and asked what they were doing.

“We told him we are shooting the last fresco,” said Smith. “He said, ‘No! No! This is not the last fresco. Follow me and I'll show you.' And he led us through the back interior [of the cathedral]. Low and behold, he opens a door into this huge workspace that hadn't been used for a hundred years or more, and was just a storage space. Annigoni had created this incredible fresco that was 15 meters high. It was amazing. It had been covered immediately after finishing it.”

The piece had simply been lost to time. Not even Annigoni's secretary or his estate was aware of its existence. “It was really extraordinary,” says Smith. “Italy is sort of like that. A lot of their ancient art treasures aren't properly cataloged, so they lose literally hundreds of thousands each year.”

The making of
Annigoni: Portrait of an Artist
was a four-year journey of discovery for Bond and Smith. Shot on location in Annigoni's home of Florence, Italy, the filmmakers immersed themselves in Annigoni's world, interviewing his students and family to gain insight into this largely forgotten painter.

“I went around Florence and checked out his work, and I thought it was incredible that nobody had ever made a film on this painter,” says Smith. “We started exposing the first frames in 1991 in the fall and went on from there. It just became a larger and larger film as we got deeper into his work and his ideas. Annigoni was such a prolific artist we really needed a feature length to tell his story.”

The Annigoni presented in this film is a complex person. His students called him “The Maestro” because of his mastery with a paintbrush — he was, simply put, the Karsh of the canvas. He was a philosopher, with the skill to capture a person's soul on canvas, but also had a reputation as a heavy drinker and brawler. He was an intellectual with the soul of an artist, whose favorite pastime was knife throwing. Painter John Angel characterized him as a “cynical and pessimistic man,” while his peer Giorgio de Chirico called him “one of the few artists worth respecting.”

Director Smith says Annigoni was an enigma. “He was a very gentle and generous man, but he was a perfectionist and could be severe at times. Especially when it came to his work.”

Annigoni's work provides the heart behind this 1995 film. Students of 20th century portraiture will be familiar with Annigoni's celebrated paintings of John F. Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth, and Bond and Smith take pains to ensure that the painter's other great works are well presented.

Photographing the enormous frescos presented the biggest challenge. To avoid distortion, cameras had to be positioned on the same plane as the frescos to properly film their two-dimensional surfaces. “We had to build scaffolding and shoot on extension ladders,” says Smith. “We also had to run external generators because the churches aren't equipped to handle cinema lights.” It was time consuming and difficult, but Smith found it rewarding in the end. “You don't want to make a film like this and take short cuts. We really wanted to do justice to his work, and also take pride in the kind of film we were capable of making.”

That kind of pride is something that Annigoni himself might have appreciated. “Annigoni really believed in the technique of drawing as being one of the most important aspects of painting,” says Smith. In the film Annigoni says, “If you can draw, you can paint.” He was a perfectionist as a painter and teacher, and would only take on students of the highest caliber. According to the film, he once had a potential student work for three months on a single drawing before he would agree to teach him. “It was a pretty rigorous process to get accepted into the studio,” says Smith.

ATANARJUAT: THE FAST RUNNER (2001)

“At the dawn of the first millennium . . . evil lurks in the form of an unknown shaman . . . two families divided by power, jealousy, murder, and revenge . . . one man must fight for his life and community . . . battling natural and supernatural forces . . . can harmony finally be restored?”

— Advertising tagline for Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner

Originally planned as a two-hour movie for Canadian television,
Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner
has found worldwide success, scooping up awards in Cannes and finding theatrical distribution at home, in the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States. Based on an Inuit legend passed down orally through the years, this 173-minute epic is a stunning achievement for director Zacharius Kunuk. He perfectly captures the rhythms of the North, allowing the story to unfold little by little against a backdrop of ice and snow. The result is compelling both as a story and an anthropologic study.

Set in the eastern Arctic wilds near Igloolik at the beginning of the first millennium,
Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner
begins with the murder of a camp leader. Sauri (Eugene Ipkarnak) takes command, and proceeds to humiliate his old enemy Tulimaq through maltreatment and derision. Tulimaq regains some of his lost prestige years later when his two sons, Amaqjuaq, The Strong One (Pakkak Innukshuk), and Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner (Natar Ungalaaq), become the main providers of food for the camp. Old rivalries arise as Sauri's bad-tempered son Oki (Peter Henry Arnatsiaq) becomes resentful of Amaqjuaq and Atanarjuat. When The Fast Runner wins away Oki's promised bride-to-be, the striking Atuat (Sylvia Ivalu), Oki schemes to murder the brothers.

“It is a story that was taught to us, a story passed from generation to generation,” director Zacharias Kunuk told
Reel to Real
in March 2002. “It's like a lesson on how you want to lead your life when you grow up. These stories were taught to us, they were like bedtime stories for us when we used to sleep side by side. Mothers told the stories to put their kids to sleep and give lessons.”

At first glance director Zacharias Kunuk's style recalls that of the 1922 landmark documentary
Nanook of the North
. Like the 80-year-old classic,
The Fast Runner
was shot entirely in Igloolik and the North Baffin area of Arctic Canada and is set against vast vistas of snow and ice, an unrelenting background of stark white and icy blue. The cold acts as an emotional trigger, as the audience can relate to it on a primal level. Kunuk wisely lets the severe climate speak for itself, quietly telling the viewer of the hardships of Inuit life.

Also like
Nanook
, Kunuk's slow-paced cinema verité method reveals the cultural values of the Inuit people, but that is where the similarities cease. Yes,
The Fast Runner
is historically accurate, carefully reconstructing ancient Inuit traditions and lifestyle, but, unlike its predecessor, is far from being just a clinical examination of time and place. Blending realism with legend, Kunuk tells a story that is both compelling and universal in its appeal.

“Once you hear the story you can't get it out of your mind,” says Norman Cohn, the film's cinematographer, co-writer, and production manager, and a native New Yorker who moved to Igloolik in 1985. “The centerpiece of this story is a man, naked, running for his life across the Arctic ice as three guys are chasing him with spears trying to kill him. Zach has talked many times about what it is like to be a kid and have that image in your head: you could see it, imagine it. There are lots of legends you can choose from, but once you've heard this one, you say, ‘Wow, that would be a great movie.' We were evolving as a company and as a creative production team to larger and larger projects, and when we decided we were ready to try and make a feature film, this story seemed like a really good place to start. Paul Apak Angilirq, who was the screenwriter, said, ‘Let's try and do this one.' And we really thought it was a good idea.”

The otherworldly setting may seem foreign, but the moral of the story is anything but. Through the actions of Oki and his father Sauri we learn of the consequences of greed and the misuse of power. The theme has been covered hundreds of times in all art forms from the Bible to
Othello
to television's
Dallas
. Rarely on screen has it been so moving, so memorable. It is a timeless morality tale, but as Kunuk s-l-o-w-l-y unravels the story we are treated to a beautiful retelling that is more than worth the wait.

One main ingredient of the film's success is the ensemble cast. Wonderfully naturalistic performances breathe life into the roughly hewn characterizations. These are simple, primal people living a harsh and unforgiving life, without a trace of self-pity or regret. Natar Ungalaaq is particularly haunting in the lead role. His understated turn as Atanarjuat reveals an inner strength that is exposed by his actions and facial expressions rather than through dialogue. Through him we learn the virtues of perseverance and forgiveness. While the film has been praised, and won the 2001 Camera d'Or at Cannes, the Guardian Award for First Directors at the 2001 Edinburgh International Film Festival, and the Toronto City Award for Best Canadian Film at the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival, it is a shame that Ungalaaq's remarkable performance has been all but ignored.

Another standout is Peter Henry Arnatsiaq. In his first professional job as an actor, the former full-time hunter is very convincing as the wicked Oki.

Near the midpoint of this three-hour epic is an extraordinary scene. Fleeing the evil band of killers who has ambushed him and his brother, Atanarjuat runs naked across the frozen tundra. The scene is allowed to play in real time, and lasts an eternity. We see him jumping from ice floe to ice floe, his bare feet bloody and freezing, pounding agonizingly against the snow. His flight is a testament to the human spirit. Harrowing and painful to watch, the scene is shot simply and realistically and is an unforgettable display of mind over matter and the will to survive.

Spoken entirely in the Inuktitut language (with English subtitles), Kunuk's retelling of an ancient Inuit legend doesn't just inform, it entertains.

THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952)

“I don't want to win awards. I want a picture that ends with a kiss and puts black in the books.”

— Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon)

The film industry has never been shy about turning the camera inward, exposing the ins and outs of “that business called show.” Hollywood was satirizing itself as early as 1928 in King Vidor's
Show People
, the story of Peggy Pepper (Marion Davies), a talented comedian who unsuccessfully tries to make a go of it as a dramatic actress. Ripe with in-jokes and behind-the-scenes footage, this one pretty much set the tone for those to follow.

With the popularity of tabloid magazines like
Confidential
came a thirst for the seedy underbelly of Hollywood and a number of harder-hitting films. One such movie is
The Bad and the Beautiful
, a cliché-ridden melodrama that is at once over-the-top and incredibly insightful. Based on a story that originally appeared in a February 1951 issue of
Ladies' Home Journal
, the film opens with actress Georgina Lorrison (Lana Turner), writer James Lee Barlow (Dick Powell), and director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) arriving at a film studio for a meeting with hot shot executive Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon). Pebbel's mission is to convince the trio to make another film with blackballed producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas). “Don't worry,” he says, “some of the best movies are made by people who hate each other's guts.”

In a series of flashbacks, we learn about the trio's troubled relationships with the scheming producer. Amiel and Shields had cut their teeth together, making a string of successful B-pictures. They were tight until Shields stole Amiel's idea for a classy film called
The Faraway Mountain
and leapt into the big time without him. Next is Georgina's story of alcoholism and spurned love. She is the daughter of a faded screen star, who fruitlessly battled the bottle until Shields showed up, romanced her, helped her kick booze, and cast her in a movie. When the film was done, so was their relationship. Last is southern writer James Lee Barlow's tale of woe. Wooed to Hollywood, he made it big, but lost his wife Rosemary (Gloria Grahame) after Shields engineered an affair between her and the studio's resident Latin lover Gaucho (Gilbert Roland). Both were killed when Gaucho's plane crashed en route to Mexico.

There isn't a hint of cynicism in director Vincente Minnelli's handling of the material. While he paints Shields as a manipulative, cheating gadfly, he also implies that each of these characters owes him something, suggesting they must put aside their personal animosities and make a decision based purely on professional considerations. The question remains, Will they acknowledge their debt to Shields, or take their revenge, kicking him when he is down? “Look folks,” says Peebel, “you've got to give the Devil his due. We all owe him something and you know it.”
The Bad and the Beautiful
is a far cry from the negative, sad tenor of other contemporary Hollywood exposés like
Sunset Boulevard
and
A Star Is Born
.

Occasionally overwrought — check out the scene where Shields tells off Georgina after the premiere — the movie succeeds because of the larger-than-life characterizations of the main characters. Kirk Douglas is at his ruthless best (he lost the Best Actor Oscar that year to Gary Cooper in
High Noon
), and Lana Turner turns in the role of her life as Georgina. Her hysterical breakdown on a rainy road in the Hollywood Hills is the highlight of her spotty career.

Minnelli took great care casting the smaller roles as well. Look for Beaver's mom, Barbara Billingsley, in an uncredited cameo as a testy costume designer. Ned Glass's turn as a world-weary wardrobe man is a classic.

Another of the joys of
The Bad and the Beautiful
is trying to connect the dots between the fictional characters and their real-life counterparts. Georgina likely is a thinly disguised Diana Barrymore, the beautiful but troubled daughter of acting legend John Barrymore. A composite of writers William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald seems to be the inspiration for Barlow's tale of woe, while there are great similarities between David O. Selnick and Shields.
The Bad and the Beautiful
is sophisticated, but still just trashy enough to be consistently entertaining, just like the tabloids that inspired the story.

BOOK: The 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen
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