Archive for the ‘Observations’ Category

I, Frankenstein (2014)...

I, FRANKENSTEIN. 

I, Robot (2004)

I, ROBOT.

FRANKENSTEIN JR.

I, FRANKENSTEIN JR.

(a Frankenstein who is also a Robot)

Robot and Frank (2012)

I, ROBOT & FRANK

BEN STEIN

I, BEN STEIN

(former Nixon speechwriter who talks like a robot)

Kissing Jessica Stein (2002)

I, KISSING JESSICA STEIN

Larry Fine

I, LARRY FINE

(At this point I tumble down the rabbit hole of watching Three Stooges cartoons all day, and completely forget to go to the movie theater.)

@jonnyabomb

Advertisements

Days of Thunder (1990)

The sky always looks like it’s on fire in Tony Scott’s movies.  Everything looks like it’s taking place at magic hour, but it’s like the most intense magic hour ever captured and it lasts the entire movie.  In DAYS OF THUNDER, the action takes place on raceways which lends to the notion that all the gasoline on the concrete ignited from the sparks given off from the earthbound drama and is burning up the atmosphere.

Days of Thunder (1990)

Not everyone is a Tony Scott fan — too much style, they argue — but I definitely am.  [You can read a lot more about the reasons why here.]  Honestly though, my Tony Scott fandom doesn’t begin until a year after DAYS OF THUNDER, with 1991’s THE LAST BOY SCOUT.  I’m not so into 1983’s THE HUNGER (an anomaly, his only horror movie), 1986’s TOP GUN (not my kind of macho), or 1987’s  BEVERLY HILLS COP II (I know, I’m surprised about that too.)  There were two Tony Scott movies released in 1990; first the far-lesser-known REVENGE and then DAYS OF THUNDER in the summer.  Then he got hold of a Shane Black screenplay, and after that one by Quentin Tarantino, and the rest was action-movie history.

Days of Thunder (1990)

Stylistically, Tony Scott was doing what he did from the very start.  He arrived in features fully-formed in that respect.  But it could be argued that something resembling a worldview, or thematic preoccupations, didn’t start gelling until later on.  What I personally respond to in Tony Scott’s work is a healthy distrust/ disrepect/disregard for authority and bureaucracy and an affinity for outsiders and loners.  I suppose that is present in his earlier films, but there (in TOP GUN and DAYS OF THUNDER) it’s coupled with the Tom Cruise machine, which represents something different than Scott’s most frequent muse, Denzel Washington.

Days of Thunder (1990)

I like Tom Cruise as an actor and as a star, but he’s never been anything resembling a favorite.  My favorite Cruise performances are in MAGNOLIA and COLLATERAL, both rare instances where he submitted his usual star persona to the whims of a great director.  He’s worked with plenty of great directors, of course — Spielberg, Scorsese, DePalma, Stone, Levinson — but usually by coupling his engine to their formidable powers, by partnering with their vision rather than being a part of it.  That’s how DAYS OF THUNDER, like TOP GUN before it, works.  Tony Scott’s energetic style flatters Tom Cruise, in a way that Tom Cruise himself, as a movie star, is the story being told here.  Contrast that to any of the movies Scott made with Denzel, which, whether you enjoyed them as much as I did or not, were more like character pieces.  Tony Scott only ever worked with huge stars, but the mechanism is different when you’re talking about the ones he made with Tom Cruise.

DAYS OF THUNDER was written by Robert Towne, from a story by Towne and Cruise.  That is the highest possible caliber of screenwriter.  This is how Tom Cruise got to his rarified level.  He made a point, smartly, of working with the best.  You want a script that’ll showcase your starpower?  Hire the guy who wrote CHINATOWN!   In his review of DAYS OF THUNDER, Roger Ebert picked up on the early Cruise formula, which we now know was very much by design:  Cruise plays a super-talented hothead who eventually achieves his goals through the aid of an experienced mentor figure and the love of a beautiful woman.  Here he’s untrained but naturally talented racecar driver Cole Trickle (note the TC initials flipped), who links up with a semi-retired pro (Robert Duvall) to conquer the NASCAR circuit.  After an early accident, he meets a beautiful doctor (Nicole Kidman) who nurses him back to health.  There’s a ton here for armchair psychologists, but I’m not going to go there.

Days Of Thunder (1990)

I was never bored by DAYS OF THUNDER (credit there to Tony Scott) but I also didn’t care too much at any point, due to the fact that, as a true-blue Yankee, I don’t really get the appeal of stock car racing.  It’s a bunch of cars with advertisements stencilled all over them, driving around really fast in a circle.  How is that more fun than reading?  Maybe this movie plays better with fans of the sport.  Apparently the story is very loosely based on some actual racing professionals, including Dale Earnhardt, and the presence of real-life NASCAR luminaries as announcers and so on (not to mention producer Don Simpson in a creepy cameo) makes the whole thing feel gaudily believable.  It also helps that Cruise and Kidman are supported by a murderer’s row of character actors, including John C. Reilly (way before TALLADEGA NIGHTS), Cary Elwes (THE PRINCESS BRIDE) as a surprisingly nasty villain, a surprisingly serious Randy Quaid, and a pre-JUSTIFIED Nick Searcy and Margo Martindale.  One of my favorites, Michael Rooker, plays Tom Cruise’s main-rival-turned-BFF (Val Kilmer style) who engages him in a wheelchair race — obviously the single most enjoyable part of the film to a weirdo like me.

The entire thing is held together by Robert Duvall, a bedrock if the movies have ever had one.  His unflappability and steadiness provide a nice counterbalance to the typical borderline-scary Cruise self-determination and high-achieving.  It does make one wonder, since Cruise once benefitted so much from older co-stars such as Duvall, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, and Paul Newman, why he doesn’t seem as inclined to do the same for younger stars, now that he’s hit fifty (!).  Cruise’s last three action films — MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL, JACK REACHER, and OBLIVION — are moving him further away from his co-stars, and back towards lone-wolf stature.  Advancing age suits a guy like Robert Duvall.  It didn’t much hurt the appeal of Nicholson, Hoffman, or Newman either.  What will it do to Tom Cruise, whose stardom is founded on forward momentum?  What’s the guy going to do when he can’t run anymore, and on top of that, they want to restrict his driver’s license?

Days of Thunder (1990)

Flag me down on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

Days of Thunder (1990)

Peeples (2013)

Peeples (2013) Peeples Peeples (2013)

Much as I’d like to keep this apolitical and just talk about the movie, the way it deserves, I don’t think I can resist it this time.  Here is a statement I’m going to underline:  I paid to see PEEPLES opening weekend.  I am lucky to have a lot of chances to see movies for free, and quite frankly I need to take those chances whenever I can, because I don’t get paid much from writing yet, and my time-consuming day job pays me a barely-survivable wage.  To say I don’t have a lot of money (or time) right now is an understatement.  But I paid to see PEEPLES.

The main reason I did that is because I really love the main trio of lead actors, Kerry Washington, Craig Robinson, and David Alan Grier. They are actors who constantly make every scene they’re in a scene worth watching. In my opinion, Kerry Washington is an uncommonly passionate screen actor, with an unfakeable decency, whereas Robinson and Grier are two of the most consistent scene-dominators in all of comedy. These are guys who have shared screens with some of the most famous comedians in modern history and have stood out against them every single time. I would watch almost anything any of these three were in, and the three of them together is an irresistible prospect to me personally.  Happily, that instinct paid off for me, and their movie brightened up a gloomy, drizzly Saturday morning.

Kerry Washington

Craig Robinson, who you probably know from NBC’s The Office or PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, plays Wade Walker, a musician who plays very Craig-Robinson-style songs to school-children as a way to give them life advice.  He doesn’t make a lot of money but for the past year he has been dating a woman who does, glamorous lawyer Grace Peeples — Kerry Washington, most recently from ABC’s Scandal and DJANGO UNCHAINED.  Maybe you’re the type who’d look at the two of them and see a mismatch, but they have a sweet, eminently believable relationship in the opening scenes.  I’m not a romantic comedy kind of guy, but that’s not really because of my love of Clint Eastwood Westerns, monster movies, and ninja flicks.  It’s because most modern romantic comedies feature lead actors who go with their worst instincts and writers who can’t write relatable dialogue or scenarios.  I find either one, or both, of the romantic leads in most of these movies to be people in whose company I don’t want to spend an entire movie.

PEEPLES eradicates that reservation quite simply, with the power of good casting.  Every single actor in PEEPLES comes off well, even when they’re disagreeing with each other within the story.

Peeples

Grace comes from a high-achieving family.  Her father Virgil (David Alan Grier) is a prominent judge.  Her mother Daphne (S. Epatha Merkerson) released a successful R&B album in the 1970s.  Her sister Gloria (Kali Hawk) is an on-camera newswoman.  Her little brother Simon (Tyler James Williams) is a brilliant inventor and an aspiring musician himself.  Her grandmother is Diahann Carroll and her grandfather is Melvin Van Peebles!

Wade has heard a whole lot about “The Chocolate Kennedys”, as he calls them, but he hasn’t met them yet, in a whole year of dating Grace.  This is weighing on his mind because he wants to marry Grace.  (Who wouldn’t?)  He has a romantic weekend planned, where he hopes to give her his grandmother’s ring, but she tells him she has to head home to Sag Harbor to celebrate her father’s beloved Moby Dick weekend.  (Yes, David Alan Grier dresses up like Ahab and reads from Moby Dick, yet another reason for me to feel warmly about this movie.)  When Grace heads off without him, Wade decides to crash the celebration and shows up uninvited, which immediately earns him Virgil’s disapproval, especially since Grace has never once mentioned Wade to them!

The rest of the film is a series of comic shenanigans and hijinks, as Wade struggles to endear himself to Virgil and continues to make things worse.  All of the main characters have secrets:  Wade is hiding his intentions, Grace is hiding her relationship and most of her history, Gloria is hiding the fact that she’s in a committed relationship with a woman (Kimrie Lewis-Davis), Simon is hiding his kleptomania, Daphne is hiding some recreational habits, and even Virgil is hiding… well, you’ll have to see.

Peeples

This is Tina Gordon Chism’s first movie as both writer and director.  (She previously wrote the screenplays to ATL and DRUMLINE.)  If I had to be critical, I’d say her facility for staging scenes of farce is promising but not fully formed — some of the gags are hilarious, others could be more sharply carried off.  And to be honest, this is more of a showcase for Craig Robinson than for Kerry Washington, who gets less screentime and slightly less comprehensible motives.  But what quibbles I could come up with are overshadowed by my appreciation of this movie’s warmth and affable watchability.  That comes from a script which treats every character as a full human being, and direction that encourages every last actor to shine.  There are no villains here.  Every character is his or her only real enemy, but all of them have the ability to improve, and we get to see most of them do so before the movie’s done.  It doesn’t feel forced or unearned. That’s an increasingly rare experience at the movies. I laughed out loud several times throughout the running time, uncommon for me, and that happened because I enjoyed the characters and the performances.

Peeples

Right this moment, PEEPLES is flopping at the box office.  That’s why I need to write this piece.  It’s not a perfect movie, but it does not deserve to flop.  It’s a generous movie about likable characters any audience would be happy to know.  For PEEPLES to flop, that means two things are happening:  People who like Tyler Perry are avoiding it, and people who don’t like Tyler Perry are avoiding it.  If you don’t like Tyler Perry, you are seeing his name on the poster and staying away.  Guess what?  I don’t much like Tyler Perry.  I’m the guy who wrote this, after all.

But Tyler Perry didn’t write or direct PEEPLES — Tina Gordon Chism did — and he sure doesn’t appear during it — an amazingly talented ensemble cast does — and very genuinely, I give Tyler Perry a ton of credit for trying to get this movie out in front of people.  To Tyler Perry’s diehard audience, I give no credit at all, since they have demonstrated with their dollar that they prefer exaggerated caricatures over believable characters and judgmental homilies over the loving themes of acceptance and honesty that PEEPLES encourages.

To me, those are themes worth supporting with my hard-won cash.  To me, it is worth supporting with my cash a film that gives Craig Robinson a long-deserved leading role.  (Judd Apatow didn’t give me that!)  To me, it is worth supporting with my cash a movie that maybe doesn’t represent my face specifically, but does represent faces resembling people in my life, dear friends of mine: teenage characters that aren’t sex-crazed morons, gay characters who aren’t mincing stereotypes, black characters who act like witty, successful, loving human beings rather than total fools.  To me, it is worth supporting with my cash the very rare case of a woman, and a black woman no less, writing and directing a feature comedy, especially a comedy that promises a career full of more to come, if only she gets another chance.

Peeples

See, this is where I have to get political.  In the age of Facebook and Twitter, in the age where everyone has a blog or writes for one, in an age where we get to see and hear everyone’s opinions twenty-four-hours a freaking day, I’m not seeing a lot of put-up-or-shut-up.  In the last day alone, this Jezebel article excoriating misogyny in comedy has been in front of my eyes about a hundred times.  I happen to generally agree with what is being said in that article, and in most of the articles like it.  I’m not sure all of them apply to me specifically, but that’s not for me to decide.  I tend to think that a man who is willing to read an entire article like that in the first place is one who is friendly to the cause and interested in ways he can change if need be.  I love movies and I am trying hard to be a good person and I believe sometimes that means putting my money where my mouth is.  That last part is an important distinction, I think.

Maybe I’m overstepping a bit by suggesting it, but I’m going to do it anyway:  If you are so committed to the principle of furthering women’s roles in comedy, then will you not get out of the house and vote with your own dollar?  Will you not go pay for a movie written and directed by a woman?  Especially because I, someone who normally loves “guy’s” movies and who normally does not love movies with Tyler Perry’s name on them, is insisting that it’s a movie worth your time?  Maybe my opinion doesn’t, won’t, shouldn’t matter.  It’s true: I’m a very heterosexual male and my skin is pretty pale.   But still, the fact that a woman broke through and managed to get a comedy made and nobody’s going to see it is something that doesn’t feel right to me.  I want to do what I can about it.  Here’s one indisputable truth, feminists and fellow feminism-friendly men:  It’s not your blogs or your re-Tweets that are going to encourage studios to make this kind of movie.  It’s your hard-earned dollars.

@jonnyabomb

Bill Hicks Sane Man (1989)

If one were to step back and truly consider the unceasing patchwork of entertainment news clobbering our eyes, ears and minds twenty-four-hours-a-day, it would serve as a disturbing reminder of how little has changed since Bill Hicks prowled comedy stages, serving as a lonely voice of sanity out amongst the wilderness of institutionalized idiocy.

I’ve written about Bill Hicks once before. I was impressed by David Letterman’s 2009 tribute to Hicks, where he brought on Bill’s mother and personally apologized to her for the infamous incident where Hicks was kept off The Late Show due to Hicks’s propensity for inflammatory material. I thought it was a classy move on Letterman’s part – if belated, since Hicks died in 1994 of pancreatic cancer. I then went on to describe why I believe that Hicks’ brand of inflammatory material would have been necessary to broadcast, as it still is, because I think Hicks’ perspective, and those like his, demand to be heard.

Television, today more than ever, is absolutely flooded with mediocrity and moronity. Since television is only ever a reflection of what the American people are most concerned with at the time, that is a disturbing statement. It’s not a crime to enjoy turn-your-brain-off entertainment – but it IS a crime when the balances are off so badly. Mediocrity is rewarded and morons are everywhere, and even though we’re in the future, nothing’s changed. Some of the same exact same morons are still prominent, in fact!

It’s almost eerie that so many of Bill Hicks’ favorite targets back in the late 1980s and early 1980s are either still lingering, or have made their moronic return. The Bush family and the Iraq War are in sequels. Billy Ray Cyrus has returned with an even more ridiculous haircut, in a new role as world’s creepiest stage dad, pimping out his daughter to the world. The most recent Doritos ad, which was a huge hit at the SuperBowl, was the most-watched ad of all time. The New Kids On The Block are back on tour, clearly not recognizing the obvious irony in their name (or the obvious double-entendre in the name of their tour). And creepy Jay Leno and his gargantuan head are still clogging up the late-night comedy world, an unkillable milquetoast cockroach with a face the size of a parade float and a frame of reference the size of a peanut.

Watching the Bill Hicks concert film Sane Man, I was filled with growing irritation.

That’s not true. Watching Sane Man, I was laughing constantly.

It’s only afterward that the irritation struck, when I realized that all of the aforementioned morons are happily moving into advanced age with ever-thickening wallets, while Bill Hicks was struck down in his prime by an insidious disease. So many people have nothing useful or interesting to say; meanwhile, Bill Hicks was only getting started on expanding our brains and enlightening our perspectives. It’s just plain not fair.

But no one wise ever said the universe was fair. All we can do is keep Hicks’ work fresh in our memory, and luckily, there’s plenty of it available.

Sane Man is a concert film from 1989. It’s basically a rudimentary VHS recording of a typical Hicks performance, live, in front of a typical nightclub audience (with some amazing mullets), for a truly impressive length of time. I generally listen to Hicks’ CDs on repeat, so what struck me about watching him on screen for nearly two hours straight was his amazing confidence in front of a crowd. Hicks owned that stage. He clearly had absolute conviction that his words were worth hearing. (If he felt any personal reservations, it sure didn’t show.) His words were worth hearing, as always, but it’s nice to see that he seemed to know that too. If you like neurotic comedians, this ain’t your guy.

Sane Man probably isn’t my favorite Bill Hicks performance I’ve ever seen – for one thing the dated video elements and imperfect recording make it tiring to watch after a while. Also, a lot of the material Hicks performs here will be very familiar to diehard fans — a lot of it appeared in slightly different form on his albums — although it is a treat to see him act out his Jimi Hendrix routine. And this isn’t one for mixed company – Hicks gets particularly vulgar at a couple moments (understandable considering the fact that he’s playing to a drunken audience.) Personally, I never get tired of hearing any of Hicks’ bits and I’m not offended by his bluer material, so predictably, I loved Sane Man. I just wouldn’t recommend it as someone’s first exposure to Hicks’ brilliance. Start with any of the albums instead – they’re all still in print and available in most any music store that has a comedy section. Look for them (and more information) at the official website.

What I love about Bill Hicks is that, while his anger and disappointment were palpable, it was always clear that he was an optimist at heart. He wasn’t bitter about how things were; he just wanted things to be better. Bill Hicks left this earth too soon, but he left plenty of peerless comedy and immortal inspiration behind. He is as alive as ever, on his albums and videos.

Hear them.

And if you want to read more about Bill Hicks, I recommend tracking down Cynthia True’s terrific biography, American Scream, or this collection of Bill’s writings.

From June 23rd, 2010.

@jonnyabomb

Resolution.

Posted: January 18, 2013 in Art, Observations, Opinions, The Future

2013

Welcome to 2013! According to Stanley Kubrick we’re twelve years past the future. We could’ve all been in space by now. The only thing stopping us is us. Although maybe we’d better start small, with the simpler questions. Are you keeping any of your resolutions so far?

2001

“Resolution” is a good word. It’s got a few different meanings. At the start of the year — although less so by the day, it being January 17th already — resolution indicates a kind of fortified resolve, as in: These are the aspects of living which I insist on doing differently or better in the new year.

Resolution can mean determination: If you’re resolved, you’re certain of something. If a situation is resolved, that means it’s been settled. In political terms, a resolution is an official statement put into action. And in reference to images, such as on televisions or computer screens, resolution means clarity.

Sometimes clarity can be found by watching people you respect, and listening to what they have to say. This happened to me recently while reading the Vanity Fair Comedy Issue, where the great comedian Louis CK was interviewed.

Louis CK   Louis CK

For some random cosmic reason, or maybe just out of pure coincidence, I’ve been aware of Louis CK for years and have periodically lucked into vantage points to observe the arc of his career. My best comedy-expert buddy introduced me to Louis’ short films over a decade ago, the films he made around the time he was working behind the scenes writing for Conan O’Brien and Chris Rock.

When I first moved to LA, in 2001, I ended up at a screening on the Paramount lot of POOTIE TANG, the feature film Louis directed. It was an obviously-unfinished workprint and it’s safe to say that the crowd I was with didn’t get it. It must suck for filmmakers to sit through preview screenings, but it sucks only a little less to have to sit and listen to the dumb comments of humorless audience members. The movie has since gained a cult following but it can’t have been an easy experience at the time.

Around that time, maybe 2002, I befriended a guy who hosted a comedy night at a bar in Santa Monica. I went several times, during which time I decided beyond a doubt that stand-up comedians are to be respected. That’s a hard job. I got to watch plenty of them up close through those comedy nights. One of them was Louis CK! This was the first time I got to see his brilliant “Why?” routine. I have rarely laughed so hard.

The next time I saw the “Why?” routine, it was in 2006, as the opening scene of Louis’ HBO series Lucky Louie. This show was fucking great but it only lasted one season.

Thanks to that same comedy-connoisseur friend, I have seen Louis do stand-up live several times over the years. In the last few, those tickets have become harder and harder to get as his popularity has exploded. You’ve all seen his FX series, right? It’s wonderful, a true victory for individualism and uncompromised comic vision. The most recent time I saw Louis do stand-up, it was a week before he hosted Saturday Night Live on November 3rd. Once again, I was among the privileged who got to see a routine or two earlier, in the working stages. His SNL monologue was an abbreviated variation of the material he did at that show a week before (both versions were hysterical).

Louis CK

The point I’m trying to express is the admiration I have for such a hardworking and thoughtful artist. It’s humbling. And it’s instructive.

All of which brings me back to that Vanity Fair interview. It’s their Proust Questionnaire, an exercise meant to reveal the personality of its subjects. The following is one of the questions, and Louis’ response:

______________________________________

Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could draw. I can’t make a thing in my mind go on paper. I draw like a child. Like a heavily beaten and molested child. Who can’t draw.

______________________________________

As a creative person who has struggled to find his way, reading something like that is incredibly illuminating. Louis CK can’t draw. Someone of so many obvious talents, who I respect so much — even he has limits that bother him. And I’m sitting here, lucky once again. I can draw! I can’t get up on stage and change the world with uncommonly perceptive and bluntly eloquent comedy like he can, but I can draw.

Believe me, that’s not ego inflation. I’m not comparing myself to anyone, or suggesting I have anything coming to me, or anything like that. This is about the inspiration I get from others, and about using it for self-motivation. There are plenty of wonderful artists who can draw far more beautifully than I ever will. But still, I can draw. I have talents that other people wish they could have, even some of the most famous and successful creative people in the world. I should appreciate that more. I should utilize that more.

So that’s my resolution, and my clarity. To use my talents, all of them. To find what I can do that other people can’t, to find what I can bring to the world that the world might need or want. I happen to believe that my writing and my personal perspective are among those virtues. My drawing ability is another.

What’s yours? Let’s all figure it out and get to work in 2013!

@jonnyabomb

Well, the conceivable happened, and I fell behind on my 31-day horror project.  No drawn-out equivocating here:  A real writer makes deadlines, even the ones he sets for himself, and a real man doesn’t make excuses, but then there’s the whole matter of reality to contend with, and the way that each one of us handles our particular reality with a variety of temperaments.  Life doesn’t stop punching you in the gut just because you took on a writing project in your spare time, and as I should have expected, life punched me in the gut a few days back and I didn’t much feel like writing about anything for a while after that.

But I’m getting back on that old gray horse and mounting up for a ride through the last week of this thing.  Y’all will have your thirty-one, I promise it, and I may not even stop there, but don’t let me go making promises.  The point is, I’m back on it.  Good thing the subject is horror.  It fits the mood.  See, I think what horror aficionados know deep down is that this entire passion for the genre comes out of wrestling with the idea of death.  I spend a lot of time looking for connections between stories, looking for the common themes and the deviations.  Well the one thing you can always reckon on with a good horror tale, whether it be about ghosts or vampires or zombies or werewolves or man-eating animals or monsters of the more human variety, is that they all have something to do with death.  Sometimes death is victorious at the end, and sometimes death is kept at bay.  Either way, whether it’s sooner or later, that one truth is for damn sure:  Ain’t none of us getting out of this thing alive.  Best we can do is reconcile ourselves to that fact, enjoy it as long as we can, and watch a shit-ton of movies if that’s among the things we enjoy most.  It is for me.

Find me talking movies on Twitter (@jonnyabomb) and at Daily Grindhouse, and one thing else…

A recommendation:  If you want daily updates and engaging commentary, please check out my friend Ryan McNeely at his site — he’s been writing about a movie a day straight through since January and it’s really great.

Now, coming in the next few days from me:

           

How many movies are there in the world?  How many movies have been made since the invention of cinema, way back in those last years of the nineteenth century?  These questions are just about impossible to answer, so how about this one:  How many movies can one person see in a lifetime?  And if that person managed to list them, in what order would he organize them?

The answer lies with a man named Brad Bourland, a grocery store employee from Austin, Texas, who was profiled by the New York Times in April.  On April 15th, 2010, Bourland posted to his website the most up-to-date version of his current project, a movie list which represents, in numeric ranking, the greatest films of the twentieth century.

That list can be found here.

The rankings are relatively predictable in places, highly questionable in others, and outright preposterous in others.  Bourland tells the New York Times that he hopes people don’t get too wrapped up in the rankings, and that’s the right move.  What Bourland is trying to do, if I understand it correctly, is rank the movies in order of esteem – in other words, Casablanca is number one on the list because critics and audiences almost universally deem it so, not necessarily because Bourland himself agrees (although in this case, one suspects that he does.)  He also wants to make sure that those great movies which may have been forgotten, or are in danger of being forgotten, remain in the national conversation alongside the more popular and the more recent great movies.  (This is an altruistic goal, even if it’s already being done well in many quarters, for example by the good folks at TCM and the Cinefamily in Los Angeles.)

Of course, ranking movies in order of appreciation is nearly as difficult to quantify as ranking them in order of quality.  The value of a list like this one is, in part, the fact that it demonstrates how silly list-making generally is.  For one thing, it can never really be comprehensive, even though Bourland has limited the list to the films of the twentieth century, even though he has put out the call to film fans everywhere to help him add in the entries he may have missed.  For another thing, documentaries, silent movies, and animated films have not been factored in, whether that is due to Bourland’s personal tastes or his [understandable] concerns about manageability.   However, the list is called  “The 9133 Best, Most Beloved and the Most Important English Language Films of the 20th Century. In Order.”  By definition, that demands the inclusion of documentaries, silents, and cartoons – and that’s not even raising the argument for foreign films.

And really, if the list is anywhere labeled “Best,” then it really shouldn’t include – just to take a few examples off the bottom end – Leprechaun, Real Men, Q: The Winged Serpent, Alien From L.A., Silent Night Deadly Night, Cleopatra Jones, Basket Case, Night Of The Lepus, or Ratboy.  How could one reasonably compare Casablanca to those other films?  Their artistic goals are diametrically opposed.  There are only two qualities these works share: one is that they were all filmed with a movie camera, and the other is that I don’t think anyone has seen them all besides Brad Bourland and myself.

So sure, it’s just an absurd project, and one that’s conceptually flawed, even if I find it bizarrely admirable – maybe even because of how absurd it is.  People love lists – really, they do – but no one is so determined that they would list this many movies and then attempt to rank them.  Well, not until now.  Brad Bourland of Austin, Texas is that determined.

Since I’m crazy, I made a rough count of how many movies from this list I have seen.  The result is either shocking or reassuring, depending on whether you are a friend or relative, or whether you are me:  I have seen about 1,231 out of 9,133.  What is that, around eleven percent?  I found that reassuring because, as many movies as I’ve seen, it’s apparently not as many as I (or my friends and family) think – although when my thoughts venture towards the realm of movies I’ve seen that weren’t included on the list, it begins to disturb.  (Brad Bourland just plain hasn’t seen as much shoddy horror as I have, evidently.)

Doing that rough count made me see the value in this list:

1) It made me notice the gaps in my movie-watching that I’d like to rectify.  As many movies from the top 200 that I’ve seen, there are still many, many, many classics that I’ve missed.  How is it that I’ve never seen The Sting?

2) Going back and seeing the names of movies that I haven’t seen or even thought of in many years was in a way a trip through my personal memories.  Movies aren’t just entertainment, but also a road map of the memorable (or unmemorable) moments of our lives.  I remember the first movie I ever saw, and I remember the first movie I ever took a girl to.  I remember the movies that scared the hell out of me, and the movies that made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe.  I remember the movies I watched over and over with my best friends, and I remember the movies I might have seen only once, with people who never quite became best friends.  I remember which movies I saw at which theater in what state, and I remember some of the big dramas or small crazy moments that were going on at the time.  Seeing all of this in once place brought all of it back – it was exactly like my life flashing before my eyes.

Find me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

This piece appeared elsewhere on the internet on May 4th, 2010 – I liked it enough to look at again and hopefully you will too.