Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Cinematic Thanksgiving

Ah, winter. 'Tis the season for wearing hats, buying cough syrup and lapsing into extended turkey comas. It's also the time to reflect on things that make us happy. In my case, it's movies in which Gary Cooper is in some way connected to Quakerism or where all of the film's conflicts can be tied up neatly in a catchy dance number. To celebrate the oncoming festivities, I decided to make a list (in no particular order) of things and scenes and people and body parts in movies that bring me joy. I hope you enjoy this list and I would like you all to appreciate how hard it was to narrow it down to just these. I'm sure tonight I will wake up at three in the morning and remember something I missed.

So, without further ado:

1. Janus Films
For helping me get that question right in trivia the other night.
2. "Nevertheless," The African Queen
Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart are at their crusty best in this film, about an odd couple who chug down a river in Africa to blow up a Nazi cruiser. Their mission (spoilers), against incredible odds, sort-of-almost-succeeds and Hepburn finds herself washed up and taken into custody on the cruiser. "But you can't just come down here and blow up the Louisa!" splutters the German captain. Hepburn raises her head, juts out her chin , sticks up her nose and snips in that most Hepburn-y of ways, "Nevah-the-less." It always reminds me of my mum.

3. Cecil B. DeMille's Introduction to the Ten Commandments
 Nothing could have set the tone better for DeMille's epic of all epics than the director himself emerging from an epic fringed curtain, clinging to an epic standup microphone and explaining why the story of Moses is so epic. Also, a fun drinking game to try with this film is take a drink every time they say "Moses." Caution: It's three hours long. 

4. Lauren Bacall's Little Dance at the end of To Have and Have Not
Her little impromptu shimmy at the end of this number always makes me smile. No one can smolder like Bacall. Dance is at 0:33.

5. Paul Newman's Look
 Paul Newman frequently gives this look when women are attempting to resist his advances. 
Often (Suddenly Last Summer, Hud, for example) the look does not succeed. It's the artifice of movies, people. When he pulls this one out I'm just about ready to climb in through the TV.

6. The Dance Scene in The King and I
 Movie magic. 

7. The Jump in The Man From Snowy River
 Another reason why horse chases should count alongside some of the great car scenes. A group of men go after a herd of brumbies, and for it moment it looks like they've gotten away by leaping over the edge of a cliff, but there's one man brave enough to follow. (By the way, this jump is for real; if you look at the trees while the horse is going down the hill you can see that they're growing straight up.) Jump is around 2:10.

8. Your Father's Passing, To Kill a Mockingbird
 To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite books and easily one of my favorite movies. This scene, in which Atticus Finch leaves the courtroom after fighting a losing battle against hatred, ignorance and prejudice in the old South, is still one of the most moving I have ever seen.

9. How Much Francois Truffaut Loved Film
  A big reason why I love Truffaut is because every time I watch his movies I can sense the man who made them. Day for Night was one of his most personal, and is basically a love letter to the movies. In this scene, a film director (Truffaut) completes a recurring dream that has been gradually filled out throughout the film. Did I cry when I watched this? Does Jean-Paul Belmondo have a great nose? Please.

10. Cary Grant's Acrobatics in Holiday
I knew that Cary Grant worked in a traveling circus, but when I saw this scene from Holiday it took me completely by surprise. This is what I love about Cary Grant: you can be dapper, you can be in full evening attire, but no situation is too formal for a back vault. (4:20)

11. "Get away from her, you BITCH!" from Aliens
 Whoever thought that females couldn't make action heroes clearly has not seen Aliens. In my opinion, the best action movie of all time. 

12. "Oh God, Oh Man"
 An intensely thrilling line reading.

13. The Laziest Gal In Town
 The only thing more entertaining than watching this song is listening to my sister do her impression of it. Ostensibly this was sexy back in the day. Hmm. 

14. Audrey Hepburn's "Drunk" Scene in Roman Holiday
 Princess Ann has been giving sleeping pills by her caretakers but manages to escape before they kick in. Luckily for her, she's found by Gregory Peck as she's sleeping on a park bench. Audrey Hepburn's sweet innocence and Gregory Peck's innate gentility are perfect foils in this hilarious scene. "Keats!" 

15. The Face Shove in Philadelphia Story
 Face it. We've all wanted to do this at one point or another. 

16. The Ending of The 400 Blows
I have waxed excessively poetic on this scene already here , but not to include it on this list would be a crime. So here it is.
17. Theme Song, The Great Escape
 This song continues the excellent tradition of "Perky World War II Prison Camp Movie Theme Songs" begun by Bridge on the River Kwai. Also wonderful about this are the lyrics my father composed to go along with it: Pri-son, a Nazi prison! We are all stuck in Nazi prison, dah dah dah, Pri-son, a Nazi prison! Prison, oh, prison, hoo-ray!
18. "Men of Harlech", Zulu
Some of the best sound design you'll ever hear takes place in this scene, in which the horribly outnumbered British defenders of Rorke's Drift face down the terrifying war chant of their Zulu attackers with this exhausted but undefeated chorus of the Welsh march "Men of Harlech." 

19. Greta Garbo's Smile in Camille
To me, Garbo's performance in Camille sums up her enigma even better than her other films like Queen Christina. Her smiles in this film are unknowable and absolutely heartbreaking.
20. Errol Flynn's Thighs
 It's a tough job pulling off Lincoln Green tights and making them look good. When you have legs like Errol Flynn, though, you don't really have to worry.

21. An Affair to Remember
This film is very dear to me not only because it's witty, beautiful and deeply romantic, but because my paternal grandmother (who I never met) apparently loved the film very much. I always feel a connection to her when I watch it.
22. Laurence of Arabia's Coming Out of the Desert Scene
 For always giving me an excellent example every time I try to explain why films weren't meant to be watched on iPod screens. When I was little, I asked my mom what her favorite movie was and why, and she described to me this scene.

23. The End of Bonnie and Clyde
We can blame it a bit for ushering in the trend of excessive violence in film, but this scene is shot and edited so beautifully and so graphically I only wish that filmmakers today would refer back to it every once in a while.
24. The Special Effects in Belle et la Bete
Done completely in-camera and utilizing photography effects and creative art design, the special effects shots in this film put most modern movies to shame with its artistry and overall creepiness factor.
25. My Now Out-of-Print Criterion Collection Edition of Notorious
To own your favorite movie is one thing. To own your favorite movie in a valuable, rare, beautifully restored format is quite another. (Brushes shoulders off).
26. The "Contendah" speech, On the Waterfront  
To read my full gushing session on Marlon Brando in this film, please refer back here. This scene is famous for a very good reason and if you haven't seen it yet, don't watch it here. Go out and rent the movie. 

27. Romeo and Juliet
 The two lovers meet and pretty much anyone within range just falls in love all over the place. Perfection.

28. Leaning Horse Scene, Cat Ballou
 The icing on the cake to Lee Marvin's boozy, grizzly performance as the alcoholic gunslinger Kid Shelleen in Cat Ballou. We still can't figure out how they got the horse to look that hungover. 

29. Tony Curtis's Cary Grant Impression, Some Like It Hot
"Nobody talks like that!"
30. The Difference Between These Two Scenes

Possibly the best summation of sublime v.s. ridiculous. What a wonderful medium!
31. "She's a Witch!", Monty Python and the Holy Grail
I'm pretty much thankful for this entire movie, but this scene always kills me. "Well, we did do the nose...and the hat. But she has got a wart!"  

32. The Soundtrack to Ladyhawke
Because naturally, if you're composing music for a medieval film about a cursed knight and his lady love, you're going to want to put a hell of a lot of synth over everything.
33. Harrison Ford's Angry Face
You know the one.

34. Steve McQueen in The Magnificent Seven
As you may already know, I'm a pretty big fan of The Magnificent Seven, not least of all because of Steve McQueen. McQueen's Vin provides the movie with levity, gravity, camaraderie, thrilling horse and gun stunts, a pair of piercing blue eyes and one of the most badass lines in an extremely badass genre: "We deal in lead, friend."

35. Cary Grant's Expression at the End of Charade
 See above.

36. When Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor Aren't Breathing Heavily at the End of "Moses Supposes" in Singing in the Rain
 The enchanting artifice of Hollywood, summed up in only three or so seconds of film. 

37. Danny's Death Scene, The Man Who Would Be King (SPOILER)--Link above
A stirring testament to the central characters' friendship, this scene takes place directly after Peachy and Danny (Caine and Connery) have conned their way into being kings of Kafiristan. Having been found out, Danny apologizes for getting Peachy killed and Peachy forgives him. The two throw down their weapons, Danny declares, "Everything's all right, then," and marches forward to his death.

38. The Homosexual Undertones of Red River
Brokeback Mountain was in no way the first gay cowboy movie.

39. The Dress Shot in Topaz
Certainly not the best Hitchcock film, but the single shot of her dress pooling out like blood is worth the wait. Hitchcock had her dress fixed with wires to achieve the shot. (Starts at 3:10)
40. When Robert DeNiro Leans Against the Doorframe in Godfather Part II
I was apprehensive about someone other than Marlon Brando playing Vito Corleone...until I saw this shot, where Vito as a young man stands in the doorway watching his infant son. Without uttering a word of dialogue, DeNiro captures the quiet power and mystery of the character. 

41. Poet, Before Sunrise
 A chance scene in a lovely film that has the essence of both fantasy and realism. I also really like the poem, which helps.

42. Pixar
 For scenes like this. 

43. The Chariot Race, Ben-Hur
 I saw this on the big screen at Lincoln Center in New York, and it was one of the most exhilarating experiences I've ever had. 

44. Gary Oldman's Hairpiece in Bram Stoker's Dracula
A master's course in acting unto itself.
45. The Last Shot in The Graduate
 With a single continuous shot, Mike Nichols sums up dispossessed youth.
46. The Ballet, The Red Shoes
The Red Shoes builds up to this scene so much that there's a bit of fear that the ballet may not live up to expectations. Worry not. The 17-minute sequence never drags, never feels out of place. It's beautifully photographed and thrillingly performed, supporting the film without distracting from it. 

47. Lady Kaede Stabbing in Ran
 Until this point in Ran, Lady Kaede is a scheming, conniving mind hidden behind the demure exterior and quiet politesse of a porcelain doll. But in this shocking moment, she whips out a knife and throws a man to the ground. She gets her comeuppance later on (in a huge crimson splash of blood across a wall) but it's certainly worth noting that in an epic war film this little scene comes across as one of the most startling and violent.

48. Liv Ullmann's Face, Persona
It's tough to carry a movie. It's tougher to carry a movie when you have barely a single line of dialogue through the whole thing. People, meet Liv Ullmann.

49. Star Wars Crawl Music
It's almost like a Pavlovian response: I hear this music and see the text and I am once again a child of eight curled up on my couch on a Sunday morning. 

50. When the Movie Goes From Black and White to Color in Wizard of Oz
 Admit it. The little kid inside of you still goes "Wow" every time you watch this scene. 

Darnit, now I'm remembering things like the "Falling Slowly" scene in Once, the opening of Twelve Angry Men, and the "Oh, miss thing, you got titties!" scene in Step Up 2. Before I go absolutely crazy I'll just go ahead and sign off. Feel free to share your own in the comments below!


1 comment:

  1. This is great. I am especially fond of #12, #24, #28, #36, and #46.

    I'll add a few:

    Tales of Manhattan - the Charles Laughton segment (I pretty much cried at this): (start at 2:30)

    The Loved One - the funeral home:

    Little Shop of Horrors - the opening transition:

    The Legend of 1900 - Magic Waltz:

    O Lucky Man! - 'Smile!'

    Le Million - rooftops:

    Ragtime - birth of a filmmaker:

    Kwaidan - billowing ink:

    One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - finale (what else?):

    Broadway Melody of 1940 - tap-dancing duel:

    Topol, one of the most underrated actors I know of:

    Love Happy - Harpo's unrequited love: (3:13)

    Tom Jones - several parts: - the fox hunt (starts at around 25 mins.); Hugh Griffith's drunken fall (56 mins.) - David Tomlinson (pre-Mary Poppins!) as the sleaziest lecher ever (40:45); the scabbard that goes flying (46:30)

    Peter Sellers in 'Being There': the end (of course)
    as well as the outtakes ( ). A lot of people don't like the fact that they play over the end credits, but I find it so moving to see him laugh.