Devin’s 100 Favourite Movies #7: “You notice things if you pay attention.”

My name’s Devin R Bruce, and I love movies. And I love lists. (I also love other things, hence the confusing name of the website.) Eleven years ago I made a list of my One Hundred Favourite Movies, and I’ve seen about a thousand movies since then, so I decided to make an update. The previous entries can be found here, and today I’m going to share about a movie that took fifteen months to shoot, had no script, and had to replace a cinematographer because it was taking so long. It’s also a masterpiece. (Spoilers, obviously.)

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7. In The Mood For Love (2000, Hong Kong/France)

Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) are neighbours in 1961 Hong Kong. They live in an apartment complex, renting spare rooms in adjacent units and with spouses that are often spoken about but rarely seen. They often pass in the hallway, or on the stairs, but rarely speak until they each discover his wife is having an affair with her husband. Alone and adrift in a city that is unfamiliar to them, they form a strong bond based on their common interests: a love of martial arts stories and their confusion about how they have been betrayed. They agree that they won’t be like their spouses, that they’ll never sleep with each other, but instead engage in strange games of make-pretend as they try to navigate this new chapter in their lives.

There is a strange and beautiful story here, but it’s in service of the aesthetic. This movie is all about aesthetics. At the risk of ignoring the wonderful musical choices in this movie, I’m just going to focus on the look. The set design is amazing, with vivid colours and era-appropriate artifacts that feel like real places lifted from forty years before. There are hundreds of beautiful shots, from a hand carrying a green translucent teacup, to close-ups of old telephones and clocks, to the opulence and emptiness of a hotel corridor. Tendrils of grey and blue cigarette smoke rising into overhead lights. Tony Leung leaning against a swath of gorgeous purple wallpaper. Wong Kar-Wai and his two cinematographers have mastered the use of cinematic language to tell the story, employing slow motion and close-ups to highlight an emotional story beat, or using foreground objects to obscure or cover part of the frame and put the audience in the role of the voyeur. Maggie Cheung is constantly dressed in gorgeous and perfectly-fitted cheongsams, dozens of them, and she’s a goddess. Earlier in this list I said Desperado featured two of the most attractive people who have ever been photographed. This movie has two more of them in Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung.

I love how In The Mood For Love plays with audience expectations. Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan are the “good” people, they’re the betrayed. They might be engaged in a strange pseudo-relationship that fills a gaping emotional hole in their souls, but at least they’re not cheating. Their emotional connection is strong and their chemistry instantaneous. And they’re so sweet, and they both love martial arts stories; they’re clearly nerds who are meant for each other, right? But the way that they sneak around shows that there’s more. Might there be something slightly off about these two people that they have to get together and sublimate their desires by acting out scenes where they play each other’s spouses? The first time I watched the movie I was entirely on their side, but with repeated viewings, I see hints of something harder. This movie deftly plays with identity: who are we watching in this scene? Are they them or are they someone else? And who are they when they’re alone?

Let’s get back to Maggie Cheung for a second. She is much more than just a goddess in gorgeous costumes. Her control of her body and her expressions is masterful in an actor, but the way that transfers to a character can turn her emotions on and off while playing a role is unsettling. My heart breaks for her during scenes where she knowingly assists her boss in having an affair. When we last see her in the movie, she’s on her own, living with a young boy and owning the apartment she used to rent a room in. She might have a hard life as a single mother in 1960s Hong Kong, but at least she’s escaped that awful time. Tony Leung tries to leave his past behind at Angkor Wat, but I feel like it’s going to be much harder for him than her.

Fun Fact: Like most people I know, I first fell head-over-heels for Maggie Cheung as Jackie Chan’s girlfriend in Police Story. One of my white whale movies is The Heroic Trio, a martial arts adventure that she co-stars in with Anita Mui and Michelle Yeoh. If I ever see it, I had better have smelling salts and a good friend standing by, because that combination of actresses might be too much for me to handle.

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Next time: “Haven’t you heard? She’s irresistible. She told me so herself.”


Devin’s 100 Favourite Movies #8: “I mean, he’ll see everything, he’ll… he’ll see the Big Board!”

My name’s Devin R Bruce, and I love movies. And I love lists. (I also love other things, hence the confusing name of the website.) Eleven years ago I made a list of my One Hundred Favourite Movies, and I’ve seen about a thousand movies since then, so I decided to make an update. The previous entries can be found here, and today I’m going to share about a movie that turned a serious look at the horrors of the Cold War into a star-studded black comedy. (Spoilers, obviously.)

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8. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, UK/USA)

As a child in rural Canada during the 1980s, The Cold War was something that I knew only vaguely about. I remember seeing the Berlin Wall come down on television, and I knew that meant Communism had died, but that was about as much as I knew about the concept. I learned about concepts like mutually assured destruction in high school, and was simultaneously astounded and furious. “You’re telling me that I could have been blown up at any time if the wrong person got too close to the button? That the ‘Duck and Cover’ cartoon was a thing that people actually believed would protect them, and not a joke? What kind of civilization do we even have here, anyway?”

It was in that mindset that I first saw Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb. I was fertile soil for that movie’s satire to take root, and I cackled maniacally as I watched low-creativity bureaucrats and inflexible military men doom humanity to a short, quick death. These characters were the people who thought the arms race was a good idea, and thirty years on I relished watching them make absolute fools of themselves. Of course, the comedy helped. The movie’s got the look of a prestige drama but the temperament of classic Mad magazine. Over twenty viewings later, I still feel some cognitive dissonance when I watch the movie. Should I be laughing this hard at a movie that deals with the seemingly-inevitable annihilation of my species? What else is there to do but laugh?

The movie looks great, with clear cinematography and really fun set design; I love the simultaneous starkness and ridiculousness of the War Room. The movie’s pacing is quite deliberate, with the bombing run moving slower and seeming inevitable, constantly cutting in to the increasing foolishness of the men on the ground. There’s also a lot of sex stitched through this movie, from the pornographic mid-air refuelling of the opening credits to the end where lascivious men argue about the number of women needed as breeding partners for the ‘right’ kind of people. I love the genius decision to use one-sided phone conversations repeatedly through the movie in order to heighten both tension and comedy. There’s one perfect beat in this movie where the American President is on the phone with a drunk Soviet leader, before the president says “Of course I like to talk to you! Of course I like to say hello!” That bit always has me in stitches and I frequently get goosebumps anticipating the punchline.

Speaking of the American President: how amazing is Peter Sellers in this? I know people who didn’t know that three characters were played by one person, but that’s the kind of performer Peter Sellers is. He may not have been a well-balanced person, but he was a top-notch performer, and if it were just about him that would be enough to get this on the shortlist. But he has competition in the unlikely form of the comedic genius of George C. Scott. I hadn’t seen him in anything before this and to me he’s never topped this unhinged performance. Apparently director Stanley Kubrick told him to go broad in rehearsal, then filmed and released the rehearsal takes, much to Scott’s chagrin. Kubrick may have been a monster, but I cannot argue with his results in this movie. Plus there’s Sterling Hayden as the unhinged General Ripper, Keenan Wynn as no-nonsense Col. Bat Guano, a young James Earl Jones (always a “whoah!” moment for first-time viewers when he pops up), Peter Bull as the Russian ambassador, and Tracy Reed as a secretary working overtime.

A few months after I watched Dr. Strangelove for the third time, I screened it for my two younger brothers, who would have been about 14 and 12 at the time. When it started the youngest said “Ugh, this is a black and white movie?” I told him just to watch and he’d like it, and I was very right. I also took him to see Fight Club a few years later was just so he’d have someone to talk about it with who wouldn’t say “Man, wouldn’t making a fight club be cool?” My mom might have been right about my tendency to warp my younger brothers’ minds, but to be fair: they warped me too, eventually.

Fun Fact: One of the reasons I despise My Fair Lady is that I will never forgive it for winning the Oscar for Best Picture of 1964 over both this movie and Mary Poppins. It’s dumb but it’s still true. Two of those movies are groundbreaking works of cinematic art, and another one has Rex Harrison lip-synching all over a perfectly good play.

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Next time: “Feelings can creep up just like that. I thought I was in control.”

Devin’s 100 Favourite Movies #9: “Don’t shush me, Gertrude! I have just been spilled upon by chilled liquid!”

My name’s Devin R Bruce, and I love movies. And I love lists. (I also love other things, hence the confusing name of the website.) Eleven years ago I made a list of my One Hundred Favourite Movies, and I’ve seen about a thousand movies since then, so I decided to make an update. The previous entries can be found here, and today I’m going to share about the greatest sequel of all time. No, not The Godfather: Part II. (Spoilers, obviously.)

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9. Paddington 2 (2017, UK/Luxembourg/France)

I remember the day I saw Paddington 2. I was planning one of my favourite indulgences: a movie double-feature in the theatres. If I timed it right, I’d see two movies in less than six hours and have time for a popcorn refill in between. First up, the Ajay Devgn movie Raid (quick review: zero action other than Ajay Devgn keeping his simmering rage at rich criminals in check ). Next was Paddington 2, partly because I’d only need to kill time for 15 minutes, and partly because my friend Erin said she loved it, and I figured missing the first movie wouldn’t impact my enjoyment. And boy, did it not.

My take on Paddington 2 is going to be shorter than the rest of the Top 10, because I don’t want to dive too deeply into it. I love taking things apart and figuring out how they work, but only if they’re intellectual exercises. At this moment overintellectualizing Paddington 2 feels like I’m cutting open the golden goose. I might be able to dig in as the years go by, but right now I don’t want to kill the magic.

Paddington 2 is a Bach concerto. It’s a hand-crafted wooden puzzle box. It’s laughter and wonder and beauty, a slapstick comedy combined with British music hall and animation and adventure and multiple heists. It’s as though The Adventures of Tintin adopted a family of Buster Keaton shorts and taught them manners and how to make marmalade. Being Paddington is a dream job: a person or very small bear doing their level best to be kind and to make things better for everyone, because sometimes people need help and don’t even know it. The people who don’t like Paddington don’t like to see kindness and whimsy in the world because they see it as weakness (or maybe because he gave them a truly awful haircut), but not even those people deserve hatred, just a stern look. I love the construction of the movie, with every member of the family feeling scattered and lost at the beginning, and then coming together with their skill and love to save the day. It’s everything movies can do and can do well. It’s just…it’s just nice.

Fun Fact: I chose the first Paddington movie as my 3000th movie (give or take), and screened it for some friends and family on my 40th birthday. I like it, but as it has neither Knuckles McGinty nor Phoenix Buchanan I can only give it the rating of ‘almost perfect.’

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Next time: “Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?”

Devin’s 100 Favourite Movies #10: “Who you gonna believe? Me or your own eyes?”

My name’s Devin R Bruce, and I love movies. And I love lists. (I also love other things, hence the confusing name of the website.) Eleven years ago I made a list of my One Hundred Favourite Movies, and I’ve seen about a thousand movies since then, so I decided to make an update. The previous entries can be found here, and today I’m going to share about The Four Marx Brothers’ crowning achievement (back when there were four of them, that is). (Spoilers, obviously.)

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10. Duck Soup (1933, USA)

Groucho gets appointed leader of Freedonia; Chico and Harpo are spies digging up dirt on him; Zeppo is also there sometimes as Groucho’s secretary. They trade insults and snip ties, but strangely play neither the harp nor the piano. There’s a musical number about war, and then a full-out war. A satire that’s not a parody and a factory of jokes that represent the chaotic DNA of movie comedy for the next hundred years. Duck Soup is a brilliant mess, and every time I watch it I’m in stitches.

The Marx Brothers came to me like lightning from the heavens. All the references, all the caricatures, the plastic eyeglasses-and-moustache toys that me and my friends had that I had no idea were Groucho glasses: they suddenly all made sense. But it was more than that. The jokes were strangely familiar, and they were full of an energy and spark that I’d never seen before. The visual gags were creaky but often caused belly laughs. To mix my metaphors: I was a young fish who had realized The Marx Brothers were the comedy water I had been swimming in my whole life.

Duck Soup is more than this list’s token Marx Brothers movie. I am in awe of it: it’s transcendently weird in a way that ricochets through many other movies that I love, and some that are on this list (such as Three Amigos, Monty Python, and at least one movie still to come). I always giggle in wide-eyed wonder at the street vendor scene, in awe of the performers’ rhythm and their constant movement. Groucho’s costume constantly changing on the battlefield is a deliciously silly joke that lesser people would have gotten rid of because it’s nonsense, but guess what: they’re clowns. (And furthermore, I don’t think that’s a real moustache either.) Groucho’s with Margaret Dumont that changes direction every other sentence and is top-notch wordplay.

Are these their best ever jokes? Hard to say, but there are dozens of brilliant one-liners and wordplay. “A code and two pair of plans.” “This means war.” “But I can’t see the stove.” Those are jokes that are the source of references twice removed, and they’re still hilarious in context. The brothers’ timing and chemistry had been finessed over their entire lives, and it fills the movie with magic. Comedy bits recycled or straight up plagiarized from other works, like the mirror sequence, transmutes from base metal to gold. The Marx Brothers should be establishment but they’re anarchic bulls in a china shop. That’s the kind of feeling I have with The Marx Brothers, and with Duck Soup as their high watermark.

Fun Fact: Zeppo rules. I often end up being drawn to the Ringo of the group (or is Ringo the Zeppo?), but he really is great. He was such a good impressionist that he could fill in for any of his brothers if they missed a cue or needed time off, like when Groucho had appendicitis during the stage run of Animal Crackers. That was such an important factor in their success that when Animal Crackers became a movie, they filmed an entire scene with the lights off so he could play Groucho’s role in at least part of the movie. His character in Horse Feathers, my second-favourite Marx Bros. movie, is a parody of the boring romantic males from movies at the time, and I love it. When he retired he became a talent agent and also an inventor who had patents for a wrist-mounted heartbeat monitor and a therapeutic heating pad. Again: Zeppo rules.

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Next time: “One juicy orange. Two juicy oranges. Three juicy oranges…”

Devin’s 100 Favourite Movies #11: “They used to be like children, carefree…”

My name’s Devin R Bruce, and I love movies. And I love lists. (I also love other things, hence the confusing name of the website.) Eleven years ago I made a list of my One Hundred Favourite Movies, and I’ve seen about a thousand movies since then, so I decided to make an update. The previous entries can be found here, and today I’m going to share about a silent American classic from a German director who is most famous for plagiarizing Dracula for his 1922 film Nosferatu. (Spoilers, obviously.)

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11. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927, USA)

A Woman From The City comes to a small, seaside town, and tries to alleviate her boredom by starting an affair with a local Man. He’s so madly in love with her that he’s ready to sell his farm and drown his Wife to join his lover in the City, but when the moment comes he can’t go through with it. The Wife flees, understandably terrified of the Man, but over the course of their day in the city they rediscover the love and connection in their relationship. On their trip back home their boat capsizes, and the Man washes ashore alone, left in his grief to deal with a lover who assumes he’s committed murder for her. Sunrise is a simple story but not a simple picture, one that puts every actor and crew person through their paces in the process of creating something beautiful.

Director F.W. Murnau fuses a German Expressionist style with an American budget and influence to create a highly melodramatic but riveting film. I’m amazed at this movie’s pioneering early camerawork and filmmaking. The first time I watched Sunrise I was in awe; there are so many shots that struck me as beautifully simple at first but then I realized that it was made ninety years ago and I had no idea how they did it. Illusions of deep focus made by forced perspective and in-camera special effects, and a casual observer might never notice how it was done. Now to be fair, ‘invisible camerawork’ is the point of the craft of moviemaking, but it makes for a much richer visual experience watching Sunrise than many of its contemporaries This was also one of the first movies with a synchronized musical soundtrack, extremely high-tech at the time. I also love that the movie makes minimal use of title cards to tell the story without breaking the flow of action; the actors are so good and the storytelling so clear, the audience doesn’t really need them.

As the Wife, Janet Gaynor is perfectly cast; she looks very sweet but can express terror or pathos at the drop of a hat. George O’Brian is suitably haunted as the Man torn between two women; ‘grey and exhausted’ seems like his natural state. The Woman From The City is played by Margaret Livingston, an actress I’ve never seen in anything else. Ultimately that makes her that much more magical to me, and her absolutely gorgeous face is seductive and dangerous. All three of these actors pour emotion in their performances to overflowing, heightening the tension and the drama. The movie is also perfectly paced and shot; the scene in the boat where the Man attempts to murder his Wife is heart-pounding, and just one example of editor Harold Schuster’s almost-musical cutting. The sets are gorgeous, halfway between a fairy tale and reality, especially in The City.

This was one of two movies to win the top prize at the first ever Academy Awards in 1927. It won “Best Unique and Artistic Picture,” while Wings won “Outstanding Picture.” The next year they scrapped the entire category, and today the Oscars officially acknowledge only Wings as Best Picture of 1927. That’s right: Sunrise was so good that it burned its category to the ground, and the establishment continues to obscure the fact that it is The Best Unique and Artistic Picture, Period. I’m not smart enough to expound upon all the beauty in this movie, so maybe that last point will seal the deal for someone out there.

Fun Fact: The original negative of Sunrise was destroyed in the great Fox Vault Fire of 1937, which killed one person and destroyed most of Fox’s silent films made before 1932. A heatwave in New Jersey caused the degraded nitrate film stock to ignite, and since nitrate creates its own oxygen as it burns, the fire quickly spread to the rest of the building. The tragedy caused an investigation of how to better store and preserve film, focusing unsurprisingly on fire prevention, and all modern versions of Sunrise are taken from a single print.

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Next time: “You must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle.”

Devin’s 100 Favourite Movies #12: “That’s right. A giant, terrifying monster.”

My name’s Devin R Bruce, and I love movies. And I love lists. (I also love other things, hence the confusing name of the website.) Eleven years ago I made a list of my One Hundred Favourite Movies, and I’ve seen about a thousand movies since then, so I decided to make an update. The previous entries can be found here, and today I’m going to share about the movie that launched a thousand men in rubber suits stomping around miniature sets. (Spoilers, obviously.)

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12. Godzilla (1954, Japan)

When I was nine years old, my favourite library book was Jeff Rovin’s The Encyclopedia of Monsters. I checked it out repeatedly, learning for the first time about monsters from film, tv, books, comics, even music. The book also included adequately-reproduced black and white photographs of the monsters, and that’s how I discovered horrifyingly captivating creatures like Gill-Man, Oliver Reed’s werewolf, and six different monsters all called THEM! The book was a treasure trove for a fertile young nerd mind, and now that I finally have my own copy I still love flipping through its yellowing pages. Even back then, I knew that the best monster in the whole book was called Godzilla. The grainy black & white pictures showed a T-rex that breathed fire and had stegosaurus plates on his back, possibly the coolest set of monster accessories. The author’s clumsy but heartfelt attempts to summarize over twenty different movies made my head spin. When I was a kid, finding a Godzilla movie in the movie rental store would have been my holy grail. Sadly, it was not to be.

I didn’t end up seeing the original Godzilla until I was in my twenties. I thought I was a really jaded adult back then, and I decided to watch the movie for a laugh, give the inner child I was trying to smother one last hoorah. The viewing experience was surreal. On one hand, ‘adult’ Devin was surprised at how much drama and pathos there was in this rubber monster suit movie. Forty minutes of people coping with existential dread, a love triangle, brilliant scientists trying to speak truth to power: is this really a monster movie? When Godzilla finally showed his face, to my surprise he wasn’t silly but…actually a little scary? Of course, inner child Devin was lapping it all up. And still does.

Besides the fact that I just love the character, there are reasons to like this movie specifically. Haruo Nakajima, one of two actors in the suit for this film, is the GOAT as far as Godzilla suitmation performers go. His choices about how the character moves are the foundation for everything that came after: how his furious stomping seems to come from his hips, or the way he weaves his torso around when he roars. (I will admit that this Godzilla’s head bears more than a passing resemblance to Cookie Monster; the revamped design in Godzilla Raids Again is a significant improvement.) The original score by Akira Ifukube is regal and terrifying, with four ascending notes the perfect introduction for the King of the Monsters. Takashi Shimura, the veteran Japanese actor, is perfect for the role of Dr. Yamane; his gravitas when explaining the nature of this new threat to the Japanese government makes everything he’s saying about a dormant tyrannosaur awoken and given powers by nuclear radiation seem normal. A lesser man might have seen this role as beneath him and phoned in his performance, but not my man Shimura. My favourite performance in the movie is Akahiko Hirata as the brooding genius Dr. Serizawa. Cutting a dashing figure in a lab coat, eyepatch, and slightly floppy bangs, he brings pathos to a character who could save the world from this atomic menace if it weren’t for his crippling fear of bringing another weapon of mass destruction into the world.

Fear and dread are all through this movie. There’s a scene on a train where a woman complains about how she escaped Nagasaki just to be killed by this unfortunate monster. The way she delivers that line, grumpy but almost nonchalant, is the clearest and most direct reference to the trauma lurking underneath this movie’s surface. It’s that dread that draws the viewer in as they wait for Godzilla to reappear, wondering what will happen when he finally makes it to Tokyo. I love how this movie plays with tension, and how it does so much with rudimentary special effects. The tiny tanks and missile launchers are really fun, and make me wonder how much fun it would be to dress up and stomp the crap out of them.

So by now I have clearly established that Godzilla is a great movie. (The American version is chopped and re-edited poorly, but it also has Raymond Burr as expat American journalist Steve Martin, which is almost worth it.) And by now I’m sure you’ve also watched Mothra and are champing at the bit for more kaiju action. But with over thirty Godzilla sequels to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to go next. As the series progresses it gets sillier and more for kids, then they reboot it multiple times in an attempt to get the original magic back, so your mileage may vary. I particularly like 1964’s Mothra vs. Godzilla (naturally), 1971’s Godzilla vs. Hedorah (underrated), 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (featuring actress Momoko Kôchi reprising her role as Emiko 40 years later), and 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars (where Godzilla stomps around the world to fight fourteen of his old foes). Whatever you do: avoid 1969’s All Monsters Attack. It’s a clip show of scenes edited out of other movies, hung on a story about a little boy who dreams he’s best friends with Godzilla’s son and can talk to him, who later gets kidnapped by gangsters. I know that sounds potentially great but it’s really not, trust me. It’s even worse than the 1998 American Godzilla, and that movie is a stinker.

Fun Fact: In the original Godzilla, the creature stood 50 meters tall. In the recent Godzilla: King of the Monsters, he is 114 meters tall. The reason Godzilla kept getting bigger is because Japan’s skyline kept getting higher, and the original height Godzilla would have been dwarfed by the skyscrapers in the late 70s movies and beyond. Not everything needs an in-story explanation; sometimes you just need a bigger monster.

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Next time: “This song of the Man and his Wife is of no place and every place; you might hear it anywhere, at any time.”

Devin’s 100 Favourite Movies #13: “WITNESS ME, BLOODBAG!”

My name’s Devin R Bruce, and I love movies. And I love lists. (I also love other things, hence the confusing name of the website.) Eleven years ago I made a list of my One Hundred Favourite Movies, and I’ve seen about a thousand movies since then, so I decided to make an update. The previous entries can be found here, and today I’m going to share about the movie series that jettisoned a hateful racist and anti-semite, recast his role and made a brand new character the lead, then won six Academy Awards and became the best-reviewed movie of 2015. (Spoilers, obviously.)

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13. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, Australia)

Mad Max: Fury Road literally changed the way I look at action movies. The first two times I watched it I had no concept of how much thought and care went into the making of the movie. I know that now, and can appreciate it, but ultimately knowing that stuff doesn’t make the action any better. I just knew it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I rate the action in this movie 12/10; the first time I watched it in theatres I wanted to scream and shout in excitement multiple times, but to the relief of my movie watching companions, I gripped the chair and grit my teeth to keep that noise inside. Future audiences were not so lucky. I saw this movie four times in theatres, and would have gone a fifth time if it didn’t leave my town’s second-run theatre with no warning.

This is the perfect movie to introduce people to filmmaking technique beyond “point and shoot” and “hit your mark & say the lines.” Of course I say that as an interested viewer, not someone who makes movies, but I still think it’s a great case study. You want to talk about sound design and sound mixing? Put on a pair of headphones and notice how everything’s layered (especially over the great score from Junkie XL). Digital effects? There are 2000 visual express shots in this movie, many of which are nearly invisible, such as the cars being moved closer together in post-production. Editing? Watch any five consecutive minutes at random, there’s something to notice.

If you need a specific five minutes to watch, you’d be hard pressed to do better than the fight at the water truck. That fight moves the story forward, sets up multiple punchlines and plot twists for the end of the movie, and gives the audience information a bout the different characters in the scene, as well as being supremely kickass. Mad Max: Fury Road contains multitudes.

One of my favourite aspects of the film’s story is how they compare the relationships between Nux & Capable and Furiosa & Max. The two young people live in a world where they’ve just abandoned everything they’ve ever known and know that the future likely means their destruction; they are sweet and hurt and cute as they start what could be simple friendship but feels like the start of something more. Max & Furiosa are older, see themselves as broken & in need of redemption, and have a hard time trusting after having lived in this wasteland for longer than they probably should have. A lesser filmmaker would have needed at least two pages of dialogue to accomplish what George Miller does with the look Furiosa gives Max before handing over a gun. Over the course of a two-hour chase for their lives, they learn how to be people again. There’s a lot about family and love in this movie, just like there are in Miller’s other movies like Babe: Pig in The City and Happy Feet. (If you haven’t seen Happy Feet, a jukebox musical where famous movie actors play singing penguins with motion-capture tap-dancing, it’s actually pretty good, and if you watch it after seeing Fury Road you’ll be surprised at how many scenes look like they could have come out of either movie.)

It’s not a subtle film with a challenging plot, and there is at least one thing that I actively dislike about the movie (but I won’t mention it here because it’s incredibly nitpicky and I don’t want to ruin someone else’s fun). It is, however, all about characters, visuals, and storytelling. The costume designs, the post-apocalyptic rally cars, the strange mythology about Chrome and Valhalla, and of course, the gonzo glory of the Doof Warrior: it all comes together to make a thrilling adventure that I’ll keep coming back to after the third rise and fall of the corporate superhero movie. Unless we run out of water, bullets, and guzzoline first.

Fun Fact: There was limited series of MM:FR comics that DC/Vertigo published as a prequel and tie-in to promote the film. Sadly the best of them is only okay, and the worst of them actively offensive, so if you’re a fan of Fury Road and are interested in the history of these characters, I would recommend avoiding the comics at all costs.

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Next time: “Adding another terrifying weapon to humanity’s arsenal is something I can’t allow.”

Devin’s 100 Favourite Movies #14: “Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”

My name’s Devin R Bruce, and I love movies. And I love lists. (I also love other things, hence the confusing name of the website.) Eleven years ago I made a list of my One Hundred Favourite Movies, and I’ve seen about a thousand movies since then, so I decided to make an update. The previous entries can be found here, and today I’m going to share about the movie that the 20th Century Fox marketers couldn’t figure out how to sell, so it became a classic on home video. Also: there are giant mice. (Spoilers, obviously.)

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14. The Princess Bride (1987, USA)

Oh hi there, Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal! Long time no see. I find it a little ridiculous that I have placed two Reiner-directed movies back to back on this list, let alone two concurrent releases. But the heart wants what it wants, and apparently, it wants an epic swashbuckling comic fantasy romance, and I’m okay with that.

I’m one of the millions of people who discovered The Princess Bride on home video as a child; it was a staple on family movie nights, choir bus tours, and drama club sleepovers. I had probably seen it fifteen times before I finally read William Goldman’s novel, which is also great in a very different way and explains why the filmmakers created the framing device with the grandfather and the grandson.

Let’s talk about that framing device a little. First of all: I love the art decoration in the kid’s room, it helps me imagine what kind of a kid he is and also is a nice anthropological snapshot of a childhood similar to mine. (Considering he has He-Man action figures and Legion of Super-Heroes comics, I think we’d get along fine, but I don’t know how his mom let him eat Cheetos in bed.) Second of all: Peter Falk and Fred Savage are wonderful together. Peter Falk could have chemistry with literally anyone, because he’s Peter Falk, but Fred Savage was quite the actor back in the day (and still is, for any fans of The Grinder out there). I love Peter Falk in every movie role I’ve ever seen him play, but I’ve never seen an episode of Columbo all the way through. Please don’t tell anyone; it’s embarassing.

You want top-tier storybook villains? You got ’em. Wallace Shawn’s Vizzini is delightful fun, a marked contrast to Chris Sarandon and Christopher Guest as Prince Humperdink and Count Rugen’s cruelty. All three of them are deliciously arch and they know it, mixing humour and viciousness perfectly. Everyone is very good and very funny in this, but let’s get to the reason for this movie season: André the Giant. Fezzik is the best character in this movie and I will fight anyone who tells me I’m wrong. He is clearly this movie’s most important special effect; can you imagine anyone else’s giant hand completely dwarfing Cary Elwes’ head? Clearly he’s not a great actor, especially by the standards of this cast, but he is a natural performer. His smiles are contagious, his facial expressions perfect, and his voice was one of the first I spent time learning to mimic. I get a happy-sad smile just remembering the words “I thought, there are four of us, if we ever find the lady. Hello lady!” I love The Princess Bride just for casting him in this movie, preserving his undeniable charm and presence for generations of movie watchers.

The Princess Bride has everything that child Devin wanted to see and everything that adult Devin still wants to see. It’s a movie smorgasbord, with an all-time champion sword fight, dozens of jokes, evil princes, beautiful princesses, pirates, magic, betrayal, true love, all that stuff.

Fun Fact: Cary Elwes wrote a book with co-author Joe Laydon about the making about The Princess Bride, called As You Wish. For fans of the movie or just movie fans in general, I’d highly recommend it. The audiobook version has almost all the crew and actors reading their own parts, which is an extra treat (except that Billy Crystal clearly called in and recorded his part on an answering machine).

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Next time: “Is that just the wind, or is it some furious vexation?”

Devin’s 100 Favourite Movies #15: “You look like a normal person, but actually, you are the angel of death.”

My name’s Devin R Bruce, and I love movies. And I love lists. (I also love other things, hence the confusing name of the website.) Eleven years ago I made a list of my One Hundred Favourite Movies, and I’ve seen about a thousand movies since then, so I decided to make an update. The previous entries can be found here, and today I’m going to share about the movie that became the prototype of the modern romantic comedy and also dared to tell the truth about the insidiousness of the fake orgasm. (Spoilers, obviously.)

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15. When Harry Met Sally… (1989, USA)

Hey. So the thing is: I used this project as a writing exercise, because I used to write all the time and then I just…stopped? I tried in fits and starts to get back to it, but nothing ever worked. I decided to write about my favourite movies in order to get a little bit of fun back, and it’s generally been good, even if the scheduling has been a little haphazard. But now that I’m in the top fifteen movies, I feel unprepared. Because who really has anything new to say about When Harry Met Sally…? It’s been held up as a gold standard in romantic comedy filmmaking and lambasted for being uninspired and flat. It’s been on lists of The Most Overrated and The Greatest of All Time. It gets mocked for being a “chick flick,” and I don’t have the interest or inclination in outlining why that kind of thinking is dumb and not worth engaging in. So what do I have to add to the discourse? Probably not much, but it’s not about discourse, it’s about movies. And god help me, but I have fallen hard for this one.

Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) is a caustically funny misanthrope with messed-up ideas about human relationships. Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) is a high-maintenance optimist with messed-up ideas about human relationships. Over the course of eleven years, we watch them develop a strange kind of friendship as their lives go in directions they would never have predicted as young college grads. Then they sleep together, which causes its own set of problems.

First of all: this movie’s success rests on the shoulders of four legitimately fine American actors. Billy Crystal is an institution, of course, and if I overlook him here it’s not because he’s not a perfect combination of funny and cruel and tender, it’s because there are three other actors that deserve more credit. First: Meg Ryan as Sally. She’s the sauce I want to put on everything, or rather, have in a bowl on the side. In this movie, she pulls out all the stops and becomes a movie star. Sally is sweet and light but also incredibly sad and worried, and I love how she turns on a dime when she hears or sees something unacceptable. (I also love how Meg Ryan completely flipped this kind of role in the cruelly under-seen Addicted To Love.) Second: Carrie Fisher as Marie. This movie’s heavy hitter, she’s neurotic and funny and warm, and cute as a button on top of all that. I love how she takes every line and finds the perfect way to deliver it. Lastly: Bruno Kirby as Jess, also known as ‘Devin and his younger brother Brendan’s favourite performance in the movie.’ Jess could have been a thankless role but Bruno Kirby gives him a barely-contained mania and brings so much to the role with his perfect facial expressions and timing. His line “You made a woman meow?” is tattooed on my temporal lobe, twice.

The script is magical. There are dozens of wonderful quotes from this movie that live in my head and bounce around vibrantly. Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner can sure turn a phrase, and the actors improvise a couple of great ones too. (I am sure the Robert Kennedy joke was a Billy Crystal ad-lib because of how fast the camera cuts away from Bruno Kirby saying “No, no” and shaking his head, it’s the best moment of the entire movie to me.) I love how Carrie Fisher seems to have more than her fair share of great lines, though that might just be because she’s Carrie Fisher and making dialogue sing is one of her greatest strengths. I especially love Marie summing up Harry’s latest girlfriend: “Thin. Pretty. Big tits. Your basic nightmare.” It’s not just single lines, though, but dialogue and monologue that comes out like gold. The scene at the baseball game where Harry reveals to Jess that he’s getting divorced, and keeps getting interrupted by The Wave. Sally explaining how her dream relationship fell apart after she read a children’s book during an afternoon’s babysitting. The incredible overlapping dialogue and delivery when Harry and Sally call their two best friends after they sleep together (seriously, that one take scene must have been a nightmare to film). It’s reminiscent of how humans talk at each other, except better.

Another storytelling trick that I love in When Harry Met Sally… specifically is the documentary-style interludes. The chapters of the movie are broken up with short scenes where two people explain how they got together. Ephron and Reiner interviewed real couples to get these stories, then cast actors to tell them onscreen. I love especially the way actor Peter Pan (PETER PAN!!) tells the story about how he first set eyes on the woman who was destined to be his wife, or how Bernie Hern and Rose White talk over each other’s version of the origin of their love story. I especially love the look on actress Connie Sawyer’s face after her husband matter-of-factly lays out how he decided they were going to get married. That look says everything.

I could go on about Harry Connick Jr.’s throwback jazz standards helping to update the screwball comedy touches for a post-Hayes Code audience, or how I’m dazzled by Meg Ryan’s costume as she walks through the yellowing trees of New York City. It made the template for how to make a rom-com for the next twenty years, so we as a society have to reckon with that, but it also gave us the Days of The Week Underpants joke, so there are silver linings.

Fun Fact: After one of Harry’s particularly cruel blowouts, Sally tells him, “Harry, you’re going to have to try and find a way of not expressing every feeling that you have, every moment that you have them.” The first time I heard that line it was an arrow into my brain, because that felt like something I had been hearing from adults my whole life up to that point. It’s still a touchstone for me, for good or for ill.

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Next time: “Is this a kissing book?”

Devin’s 100 Favourite Movies: #17-16

My name’s Devin R Bruce, and I love movies. And I love lists. (I also love other things, hence the confusing name of the website.) For over fifteen years I have maintained a list of every movie I’ve ever seen; currently the count is around 3500 or so. In 2010, when I was thirty-one and obsessed with my inevitable transformation into an old man I made a list of my One Hundred Favourite Movies.

It’s eleven years and about a thousand movies later, and with my transformation to old man basically complete, I decided to revamp the list. From now until December 25, 2021, I’ll post the movies from my list, rant and rave about them, and hopefully convince someone to watch one of them for the first time. The previous entries can be found here. Here are two more. (Spoilers, obviously.)

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17. Tokyo Story (1953, Japan)

Tokyo Story sneaks up on you; at least, it snuck up on me the first time. It’s a drama and character study about two generations of a family living in post-War Japan. The older parents are just as slow and deliberate as the movie, and their grown children are impatient and see them as a nuisance, much as some viewers might. But this movie has a quiet beauty that brings me great joy, and a story that brings equally great sadness.

Chishū Ryū plays the quiet and slightly confused father, Shūkichi, and Chieko Higashiyama plays his loyal and exhausted wife, Tomi. They feel comfortable in their scenes together, just two old people who have made a life together and know each other intimately. If it isn’t the life they’d imagined, they don’t complain, they just shrug and say, “Yeah, life is hard like that sometimes.” I love these two old people; they are a poem on screen.

The way they are treated by their children is sometimes horrifying. There are few movie scenes more maddening to me than when eldest daughter Shige (Haruko Sugimura, who puts in a sly and wicked performance) deals with the surprise arrival of her parents from the spa she and her husband bundled them off to. “You should have stayed and had fun” she says with a sour look on her face, then when they say they want to leave Tokyo and go home she berates them for not staying longer. Then, after she blackmails them into staying with the promise of theatre tickets, she tells them they can’t sleep in her home because there’s no room.

The one person they can rely on in Tokyo is their daughter-in-law Noriko (Setsuko Hara), who is still devoted to them despite her husband dying in the war. When she puts Tomi up for the night in her small apartment, the old lady says, “What a treat to sleep in my dead son’s bed.” What a line. It’s not sarcastic or bitter, I almost think she believes it, and that makes it even more devastating. I also love that she is so kind to her Noriko, telling her that she needs to live her own life and that she and Shūkichi should have done better by her. She says it with such calmness, the little break in her voice just betraying her emotions. Noriko plasters a wide smile on her face as they talk about the pain of life, simultaneously vulnerable and guarded. The scene ends with Noriko lying next to Tomi, listening as she cries herself to sleep. It’s almost too much suffering for one film to hold, and it’s just one of the dozen character sketches that make this movie great.

Throughout the movie, Noriko says the saddest things with a smile on her face. When the couple’s youngest daughter Kyōko (Kyōko Kagawa) berates her siblings for treating her parents like a burden, Noriko stops her. “Children grow away from their parents,” she says through bared teeth, “don’t be too upset with them.” Smile and pretend you’re not forced to say and do awful things: this is how you have to behave in order to be a woman in this world. Tokyo Story is devastatingly told, and beautifully made.

Fun Fact: This movie marks actress Kyōko Kagawa’s second appearance on this list. Not only is she great as Toshiro Mifune’s romantic lead in The Bad Sleep Well and High and Low, but she is also the plucky lady photographer in Mothra.

16. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2001, Hong Kong/Taiwan/China/USA)

Romance and swordfighting with the greats. On the cusp of retirement, warrior Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) asks his old friend Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) to deliver his sword the Green Destiny to their patron for safekeeping. It is stolen by Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-Pei), former lover and murderer of Li Mu Bai’s master, who has been posing as a governess to the daughter of a rich governor, Jen (Zhang Ziyi). What follows is a tale of adventure, heartbreak, love, and loyalty; an epic adventure and immortal love story

I’m going to get this out of the way first: I had, and still do have, huge crushes on the movie’s leading ladies. Zhang Ziyi is stunning, her fury propelling her through the story with a curled lip and a chip on her shoulder. And what can I say about Michelle Yeoh other than she is the platonic ideal of a leading lady? Hyperbole? Perhaps, but if you’ve seen the movie, not far from the truth.

The score, arranged by Tan Dun and featuring multiple solos from cello master Yo-Yo Ma, is divine. The fight choreography from Yuen Woo-Ping is gorgeous, so much so that I can’t pick a favourite fight. It’s a three-way tie between Jade Fox trying to escape Shu Lien with the Green Destiny, Jen and Li Mu Bai fighting as they dance in the treetops, and Jen dressed as a man taking out a restaurant full of goons. Those are definitely the top three, except that I forgot about the scene where Jen and Shu Lien fight using a variety of weapons, so that’s definitely the top four fight scenes and I’m going to stop before I remember a fifth.

As amazing as the fights are, the best scene in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is when Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien drink tea. Li Mu Bai is about to leave to kill Jade Fox and avenge his master, looking out the window at the rain on the trees, and Shu Lien brings them tea. As he takes his cup, their hands touch, and he pulls away as force of habit and politeness dictate. Then, he puts the cup down on the table, takes Shu Lien’s hand in both of his, and presses it to his face. He closes his eyes, soaking in the moment they both have ached for these past fifteen, twenty years. She looks at him with love and tenderness, but also with the understanding that this won’t last. He says that the important things in life are the ones you can’t hold on to, she tells him that repressing his emotions will only make them stronger, he says he knows that and wants to stay here with her, but doesn’t know what to do. Then, the sip their tea in silence and wait for the rain to stop, so their life of violence can continue. Nobody gets a happy ending in this movie, and I love it for that.

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Next time: “Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash.”