Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The New World

I'm seeing it on Monday night! Be still, my beating heart...

... cut that out! still, I tell you!

It's no use. I'm a wreck with anticipation.

#46: Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)

Because it's Hitchcock's bitterest romance.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

#47: Au hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966)

Because there's a whole world of hurt in those eyes.

#48: Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)

Because it's all over much too quickly.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

#49: Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)

Because it makes cynicism tragic.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

#50: Anne and Muriel (Fran├žois Truffaut, 1971)

Because it's miles better than Jules et Jim: a rapturous study of how love ebbs and flows.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

#51: Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)

Because Spielberg set himself a high bar there.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

#52: The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973)

Because it's such a brilliant demolition job.

#53: Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944)

Because Laura's a ghost and remains one.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

#54: Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)

Because it's Godard at full strength.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

#55: Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984)

Because twang twang, twang twang;
Wenders, Shepard
Kinski, Stanton

Thursday, November 17, 2005

#56: Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949)

Because it makes delicious mincemeat of our bygone class system.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

#57: Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995) & Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter et al, 1999)

Because I could watch them a hundred times and still find reasons to rejoice.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

#58: The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)

Because it flushes the old certainties down the drain.

Monday, November 14, 2005

#59: Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994)

Because where other sports movies print the legend, this one prints the truth.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

#60: Sabotage (Alfred Hitchcock, 1936)

Because Hitchcock's such an expert terrorist.

Re-evaluating: Network (1976)

Maybe I'm just more practised at negativity, but amid all these hopelessly reductive one-line appraisals of my favourite movies, I'm going to start an occasional series here of longer Doubting Tim posts on other consensus classics that, for various reasons, won't be getting in any time soon. (I'm not going to reward them with pictures, either, so there.)

It must be some twelve years since I last saw Network, Sidney Lumet's four-time Oscar-winning TV satire from 1976, and I fully remember loving the movie at an age when articulate-sounding despair, voraciously mannered acting from half the cast, and Faye Dunaway were all recommendations in themselves. My incentive for going back to it was a terrific post over at Nick's, in which he explained the reasons for its ongoing personal appeal to him while rightly calling it out as consistently overrated.

Boy, is it. I think Paddy Chayefsky's script, very often referred to as one of the sharpest achievements in 1970s Hollywood screenwriting, is actually really tremendously bad - a self-righteous screed against TV as an institution, dripping with contempt for the braindead masses who watch it, and casting those responsible for churning it out as almost uniformly soulless ratings-obsessed automatons. You can agree with all that if you like, but what's really death to the movie is how shrill and monotonous Chayefsky's characterisations are; Dunaway's Diana begins and ends it as exactly the same (non)person, and she's not progressively revealed as "television incarnate" so much as a walking target straight off for the excoriation she gets slapped with at the end. That speech is vicious - as is the idea of ratings giving her instant orgasms - and it comes nonsensically from the mouth of the dull-but-supposedly-decent William Holden character, who gets romantically involved with Diana purely so that Chayefsky can shoehorn it in when they split.

Finch's Howard Beale isn't a character, either: he's a foaming mouthpiece for Chayefsky's ineffectually generalised rants about, as far as I could work out, the end of civilisation as we know it. By showing all those viewers up and down the street going gaga for Beale's rampantly unfocused "mad as hell" moment the movie smugly buys into the meme that no one ever went broke underestimating our intelligence. So, like an awful lot of films which resort to dim-bulb crowd behaviour to score their ostensible points, this isn't a satire so much as an unachieved idea for one, carried superficially aloft by Chayefsky's florid and pretentious phrase-making. (Does the word "auspicatory" really even exist?) Lumet's tired, recessive direction is also to blame: he hands each big monologue over to his principal actors on a plate, and in most scenes you can tell who's about to get one because it'll be the person who happens to be standing up.

Chayefsky's gestures at post-modernism, meanwhile, get him nowhere - "Here we are, going through the obligatory end-of-act-two husband leaves scorned wife scene..." - says Holden to Beatrice Straight, who picked up an Oscar - the film's weirdest - for probably a day's work doing the scorned wife bit in precisely that scene. The point is that everything in Network feels obligatory, everything designed to win Oscars for telling Hollywood exactly what it wants to hear about TV, and everything born of self-backslapping cynicism rather than genuinely progressive insight. Besides, in an age where the networks are capable of derailing the entire electoral process and deliberately skewing the vicissitudes of an ongoing war for heaven's sake, there's an awful lot more to bash them with than just a bit of amoral ratings-grabbing.

#61: A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan, 1951)

Because I love the play, and because Alex North's magnificent score practically directs the movie by itself. But mainly, if I'm honest, because of Brando.

Friday, November 11, 2005


Not strictly a film. One of my dogs, shot in what I hope you'll agree is a homage to The Royal Tenenbaums.

#62: Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)

Because heaven is stingy, whereas Haynes's artistry is anything but.

#63: All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)

Because of just everything.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

#64: The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1983)

Because it's eerily acute on celebrity culture then and now.

Monday, November 07, 2005

#65: Gallipoli (Peter Weir, 1981)

Because it makes a simple point with shattering clarity.

#66: Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959)

Because Sirk's social critique works on so many levels, even while he's getting you drunk on style.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

#67: California Split (Robert Altman, 1974)

Because it's prime Altman, not minor Altman, with a great theme: how all the winning in the world is never going to be enough.

#68: Long Day's Journey Into Night (Sidney Lumet, 1962)

Because it traps the Tyrones, like museum exhibits, within their own play.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

#69: Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)

Because it's swaggering and seductive and horrifying, and such a bravura performance from Scorsese.

#70: Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman, 1972)

Because it's one of the most bravely miserable movies ever made.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Thursday, November 03, 2005

#72: The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962)

Because it's not paranoia if you've really been brainwashed by your own mother.

#73: Happy Together (Wong Kar-Wai, 1997)

Because just LOOK.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

#74: The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)

Because it's the really, really good one.

#75: Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976)

Because it's almost too upsetting to watch.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

#76: Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)

Because it's my favourite comedy about suicide.

#77: Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986)

Because it's the serial killer movie as installation art.

#78: Nosferatu (Werner Herzog, 1979)

Because it's such a strikingly operatic reinterpretation.