Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Altman Tribute

By Susan Thea Posnock

When I met and interviewed Robert Altman just a few weeks ago for OscarWatch I didn't see a man who, like a character from his swansong A Prairie Home Companion, was about to get a visit from the angel of death. Instead I saw a vibrant, quick-witted, slightly cranky film genius.

At 81, there was no denying he still had it. In the last five years of his life he brought one great film, Gosford Park and two good ones, The Company and the aforementioned Prairie to the screen. He was right when he guaranteed me that he would never win an Oscar in competition, but it wasn't for lack of quality. He just ran out of time.

Continue reading here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Chat with Altman from Oct. 31, 2006

By Susan Thea Posnock

Over the years I've had the opportunity to interview a number of interesting and (sometimes) famous people. As a result, I'm rarely intimidated by the prospect of a one-on-one, regardless of the person on the other end of the recorder. But faced with five minutes with legendary filmmaker Robert Altman, I felt the sort of jitters I used to get on the first day of school.

That's not only because Altman is famous, but he has an imposing air about him that's hard to penetrate. More importantly, he's a cinematic icon who has made his mark over decades, having helmed more than 30 features including MASH, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville and The Player. He's racked up numerous industry honors and has been nominated for eight Academy Awards (five for Best Director and three for Best Picture, the most recent ones for Gosford Park in 2002). And while he's never won in competition, he received an Honorary Academy Award last March.

Continue reading here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

POSmeter: “Self” Actualization

By Susan Thea Posnock

Over at IMdb Pro (the paid subscription version of The Internet Movie Database) they have weekly MOVIEmeter and STARmeter ratings, nifty little charts that gage what movies, television shows or celebrities are "hot" based on IMdb user searches.

Read the rest here...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Opposing Forces

By Susan Thea Posnock

Something strange has been happening to me lately. Mysterious forces are at work and I'm gripped with the kind of anxiety I haven't felt on a regular basis since college.

This feeling has been prompted by recent screenings of Half Nelson and Little Children. Rather than my typical "light and breezy" column, it seems only a properly researched term paper will suffice in dissecting these films.

That’s not a knock on either--in fact in many ways it’s praise. Returning to the student mindset raises questions and can be a thrilling exercise. At the same time, heady themes can either make a story soar, or drop like a lead balloon.

Half Nelson, (definitely not to be confused with 1985's short-lived Joe Pesci series of the same name), the independent feature from director/writer Ryan Fleck and producer/co-writer Anna Boden is arguably the more ambitious of the two because of its underlying philosophy. It's an unconventional classroom drama in which the "hero" is a white, crack-addicted teacher named Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling), who uses dialectics to teach history to his mostly black students. The theory, from German philosopher Georg Hegel, says the clashing of opposing forces leads to change. The film demonstrates this simply through an arm wrestling match between Dan and one of his eighth-graders. He tells the kids how when one force overtakes the other (in this case he overcomes the strength of his student) it leads to a turning point. On a larger scale, dialectics can be applied to movements like Civil Rights or wars.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Interview with Shareeka Epps

By Susan Thea Posnock

In an industry that's full to the brim with Disney Channel-groomed starlets, Half Nelson's talented newcomer Shareeka Epps stands out.

She was discovered in a Brooklyn classroom when filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden were casting their short film Gowanus, Brooklyn. After that film's success-it won the short film award at Sundance in 2004-Fleck and Boden were able to shoot the full-length version. While actor Ryan Gosling took over the role of teacher Dan Dunne, Epps auditioned for and won the right to expand the pivotal role of Drey, the student who befriends her crack-addicted instructor.

Read the rest here...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bottled Cinema Bliss

I was having a bad day on Monday. While numerous factors can contribute to major blahs--bad hair, sickness, stress--the reason in this case was the 5th anniversary of 9/11.

As much as I tried to avoid the news it was everywhere--a random conspiracy theory t-shirt here, a memorial service there. I felt it just being in Manhattan. It was like my body had become a living and breathing part of the city and the massive hole at the bottom was inside of me--at least for a day.

Continue reading here.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Most likely to be snubbed

It's as inevitable as composer John Williams getting nominated for Best Original Score. Every year there's at least one film, one actor, one live action short (okay, maybe not) that famously gets the cold shoulder come Oscar time.

This "snubbery" takes on two forms: the critical darling that's nominated for everything but an Oscar, (i.e. Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind); or the many-nominated snub (either shut out completely like The Color Purple, or fails to win the big one, as in the case of Saving Private Ryan and last year's favorite Brokeback Mountain).

Continue reading at OscarWatch

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Kong Love

It is hard to grow up in America, or perhaps anywhere, without having the "beautiful princess" and "prince charming" fantasy ingrained in your mind well before the time you actually experience anything close to love.

I'm no exception. I was raised on the "Disney-fied" ideas of "someday my prince shall come" which morphed into other unrealistic notions of love everlasting such as the concept of a "soul mate." But it wasn't until recently that I took these ideas to the extreme. Yes, it's true: I'm in love with a 25-foot tall gorilla.

Don't scoff! I'm not the only one. Do you really think a vibrant, sensual and talented woman like Ann Darrow (as portrayed by Naomi Watts in Peter Jackson's 2005 update/tribute to the original King Kong) can really prefer a skinny, intellectual playwright?

While many see King Kong as an action/adventure film, for me it is a much more telling interpretation of a single gals' plight to find "Mr. Right." Bridget Jones Diary you say? Cute movie, but given the fact that Mark Darcy doesn't get shot down by planes while atop the Empire State Building, it is far from reality. (Just try imagining Colin Firth swatting at planes. I think not.)

Of course, I don't mean this literally. But like King Kong, Darcy is the image of the perfect man: Prince Charming of the modern age. Well, let me step back for a second. The thing about Mr. Darcy--the one created by Jane Austen--is that he's not perfect. He's a snob when Elizabeth meets him and too proud. But the fantasy is that a smart and interesting woman can transform him into the perfect man through love. Right.

I'd argue that King Kong is similar to Darcy, albeit with more hair. And perhaps more of a temper.But unlike Bridget Jones (and any number of rom-com fantasies) King Kong gets it right because in the end, the film recognizes that it is just a fantasy and beauty, Ann, or really any woman who has bought into the tale, must face bitter disappointment as the romantic figure of her dreams plunges to his death. It isn't just that Kong dies, it's that Ann--a figure of doom from the start, expressing how "nothing good ever lasts"--must give up the dream of her soul mate. Love isn't perfect and she'll have to settle for dull Jack Driscoll (a well-cast Adrien Brody, despite criticism to the contrary).

I think Kong had a huge impact on me because I finally saw how I'd been searching for him in the men I chose to fall for (no pun intended). In place of an inappropriately large hairy gorilla and tall landmark building, I'd chosen obstacles such as an entire country's distance, or emotional gaps that could not be bridged. I entered into these situations fully aware that they were not meant to be. Like Ann, I was resigned to this fact, but held on as long as I could.It could never work.

Beauty may have killed the beast, but it was reality that killed the romantic fantasy.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Movie Musings

While I'd planned to check out Miami Vice this past weekend, I didn't get a chance. I will see it, but probably more out of curiosity to see how it was shot (high-definition digital video) versus any real Oscar vibe. And yes, I was a fan of the show back when Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas donned pastel and passed on the socks. I even confess to copying the style myself (the horror, the horror)...luckily that was just a phase and didn't cause the same kind of long-term psychological impact I experienced via the mind-bending style morphing from black spandex, a la Olivia Newton-John in Grease to hippie beads and an uber-crush on Treat Williams in Hair in 1978 and 1979, respectively. My mother still has the evidence, but I will not be sharing it here.

In any case, moving on to much more serious matters, the movie that is truly on my mind right now is Oliver Stone's World Trade Center. It opens this week and has thus far gotten mixed (from excellent to lukewarm) reviews.

As some of you know, I live and work in Manhattan and I was here on Sept. 11, 2001. Very fortunately, I was not working near the WTC that day and even more thankfully, I did not lose any close friends or loved ones. However, the event had a profound impact on my life to the point that I couldn't even watch or read the regular news for about a year. I was truly traumatized and it took me a while to really get back to the new, post-9/ll "normal."

I have been drawn to the films that are starting to come out on the subject, like the acclaimed United 93 and now what sounds like a more sentimentalized account in WTC. It is an odd personal dilemma to want very much to see both films, yet to be fearful about their ability to transport me back in time. And there is no doubt in my mind that seeing either-regardless of the quality-will put me in a mood that I'm not sure I want to be in.

Just reading the reviews pulls me in that direction. I literally cannot get through one review of Stone's film without starting to tear up. However I know, as much as it may take me back to that day I must see these films. I'm just not sure I'm ready.

I did finally see Steven Spielberg's Oscar-nominated Munich. It feels like a pre-cursor to viewing these other films, especially given the last image on the screen. It was excellent, and further proof that Crash was the least worthy of last year's Best Picture contenders. Munich has its flaws, but overall it is a harrowing reflection on revenge and the cycle of violence. It is an even sadder commentary, given current events. In terms of acting, it further cements my love (lust) for Aussie Eric Bana. It was good to see him in a film that finally matched his talents.

Another recent screening was Wong Kar-Wai's 2046, his follow-up to the striking In the Mood for Love. Speaking of moods (which is really what this is all about, how films impact mood), I don't think I've seen a more visually haunting film in ages. It seeps under your skin and I don't think anybody conveys that kind of poetry today better than Wong. It was so beautiful that I fell into it, like a trance. The only other movie I can think of that (recently) had that kind of hypnotic pull on me was Jun Ichikawa's Tony Takitani, another tone poem for the patient film viewer. Both films use both their visual and musical landscapes to convey a sense of loneliness and desperation.
Which brings me back to the beginning... I think that right now I'm looking for movie experiences that are more authentic than what I'm guessing a pop culture dream like Miami Vice can provide. I read an interesting interview in the most recent issue of Film Comment with Richard Linklater, where he comments on the dream-like state that movies put us into.

Nathaniel at The Film Experience referred to this in a post about the sublime Woody Allen film The Purple Rose of Cairo. If you look at Mia Farrow's expression at the end of that film and recognize yourself, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Of course, the problem with going into that dream-like state with films like United 93 and World Trade Center is that the world's they present aren't dreams, they're nightmares.

And unlike Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, you can't wake up.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The 9 Steps to a Quirky Comedy: Little Miss Sunshine

Step 1: Cast of the moment. Bonus points for including precocious (but un-annoying) child star in the making. Double bonus points for the fact that said child star, Abigail Breslin was excellent in her first film, Signs. Triple bonus points for the fact that she co-stared in that film with this week’s crazy-man star Mel Gibson and it was directed by last week’s crazy-man writer/director, M. Night Shyamalan. (Night probably sent Mel flowers, given how Mr. Apsycholypto has drawn attention away from heated speculation over his own sanity.)

As if Breslin’s measured cuteness weren’t enough, she’s surrounded by always reliable Greg Kinnear as dad Richard; Alan Arkin as Grandpa; scalding hot Steve Carell as Uncle Frank; appropriately pissed-off Paul Dano as brother Dwayne; and Toni Collette as mom Sheryl (proving again that Aussies excel at American accents).

Step 2: Everybody must quirk.

Nowadays an important element of a quirky comedy is that there can’t just be one off-center character. They all have to be wacky. With that in mind, Kinnear does another amicable spin on his “lovable loser” persona. This time he’s obsessed with getting his “9-step” self-help program for success off the ground.

Arkin isn’t just a pervy grandpa; he’s a pervy, heroin-snorting grandpa.

Carell’s character is gay (which in a less interesting film would be the lazy route to quirkiness). Here he’s also suicidal and an expert on Proust.

Meanwhile Dano’s big brother has taken a vow of silence.

Breslin and Collette have the most “normal” characters, though I think the movie makes it pretty clear that just being in this family makes one a bit loopy.

Does all this quirkiness work? Surprisingly, yes. But I think that’s mainly due to the skill of the cast. In lesser hands this would feel like the mental ward in the Dudley Moore stinker Crazy People. At least nobody walks around in a blue robe and slippers. (Cinema shorthand for lovable nut.)

Step 3: Camp.

The title alone says it all. It’s hard to get campier (or creepier) than a beauty pageant for 8-year-olds.

Step 4: That lady from Donnie Darko. Okay, I know not every quirky indie hit includes actress Beth Grant (and the aforementioned cult hit was hardly a comedy) but I knew exactly what I was in for when DD’s uptight Sparkle Motion leader showed up as a pageant official. Unfortunately, I think she’s wasted here. I guess you can’t get any better than her Darko declaration: “Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion.”

Step 5: Lowbrow comedy spun around for a highbrow crowd.

Was it just me or did anyone else expect Christie Brinkley to speed by in a Ferrari? This road movie owes a lot to National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Step 6: Winners are lame, losers rule.

Well okay, the lesson is really that winning is about trying… But lets face it, losers are more interesting and they certainly have more quirks.

Step 7: Dysfunction Junction.

Not only are the characters all quirky, they don’t like each other much.

Step 8: Dark subject matter.

That’s clear from the beginning with Frank’s failed suicide attempt. However, I don’t think a certain plot twist (which I won’t give away) really works. Yes, it makes for a nice punch line later in the film… but I think it takes the film down a notch and pushes it from quirky to ridiculous.

Step 9: Get up and dance!

In my book, nothing says quirky like a bunch of white folks grooving to Rick James.Will that groove play into Oscar season? I think Carell has the best shot because his character is just a little deeper. I’d love to see Collette recognized because she’s great in everything, but I think her fine performance will be obscured by the insanity around it.

*Originally published on

Friday, July 28, 2006

Allen Analysis

There's an old joke. Uh, two elderly women are at a Catskills mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know, and such small portions." Well, that's essentially how I feel about life. Full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly.
-Alvy Singer, Annie Hall

From the opening moments of Annie Hall, the film is funny, familiar and touching. The above quote, the first joke Woody Allen tells in his opening monologue, has always rung true for me. Probably now more than ever before.

The film is filled with the misery and disappointments of life and love: An old woman walking down the street informs Alvy (played by Allen) that "love fades"; Alvy explains at one point that there are two people in the world, the "horrible" and the "miserable," and be thankful if you're only miserable.

I identify with the character, down to little details. The first scene, of a childhood Alvy visiting a doctor with his exasperated mother, is like a page from my own childhood. Could it be a lot of children out there worried about the "expanding universe?" When Alvy asks, "What's the point?" I realize I often ask this same question myself. I think the film is about answering that question. Or, perhaps saying there doesn't need to be a real answer or a real point. It just is.

Annie Hall has had real influence in my life. A viewing of it a few years back was critical in my decision to end a bad relationship. It isn't that I needed to see it to realize things weren't working. But, seeing the romance between Alvy and Annie Hall gave me a sense of peace (and final resignation) over my own situation. To paraphrase the film, what I had on my hands was a dead shark.

The best films always make me see something a little bit clearer in my life and myself.

In Allen's most significant work, he goes beyond his self-obsession and strikes a chord with the viewer. I think Annie Hall is the peak of his career, at least in terms of the prototypical Allen film. By that I mean any film where he's the star, playing his nerdy neurotic self and relating to other intellectuals or pseudo-intellectuals-lovers, friends, acquaintances and strangers on the street.

Those strangers often provide a punch line, and some wisdom:

Alvy Singer: Here, you look like a very happy couple, um, are you?

Stranger: Yeah.

Alvy Singer: Yeah? So, so, how do you account for it?

Stranger: Uh, I'm very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.

Stranger: And I'm exactly the same way.

Alvy Singer: I see! Wow! That's very interesting. So you've managed to work out something?

The first time I saw Annie Hall I was probably too young to comprehend what Allen was trying to get across. That the only truly happy people in this world are (perhaps) too empty to realize how complicated and difficult life (and relationships) can be.

It is an odd little scene, because Alvy is making a joke at the clueless couple's expense. But at the same time, he envies their ability to be happy and not worry and obsess over every little detail.

That said, it is very clear that Alvy is willing to endure the difficulties of life and relationships, that he wouldn't want the emptiness of the bland couple on the street. Allen's characters recognize the pain of life and in the end, they want MORE. Because when it comes down to it, the portions really are too small.

*This review originally ran on the web message board Moviola at

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

Richard Linklater's adaptation of A Scanner Darkly is both an exhilarating and frustrating film experience. Exhilarating in that it is original, thought provoking and at times extremely funny; frustrating in that its muddled hallucinatory trip makes one feel a lot like the detective/junkie portrayed by the god of "whoa" himself, Keanu Reeves.

Perhaps that's the point and trying to comprehend each and every nuance of the Philip K. Dick novel-turned-film is futile. It isn't really about understanding; it's about feeling.

Of course, as with the film’s fictional Substance D, there are only so many hits one can take before your brain starts to split off into competing factions:

Left Brain: When is this going to end? What the hell just happened?

Right Brain: If you want to understand it try reading the book. Besides, this is interesting and visually stimulating. Look at all the pretty colors!

Left Brain: It’s too long!

Right Brain: An hour and forty minutes isn’t that long. You sat through Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, which was essentially a two and a half hour trailer for the third Pirates film. And not a very good trailer.

Left Brain: Good point.Come to think of it, when I see the box office numbers for brainless summer entertainment I sometimes wonder if Hollywood executives aren’t already slipping moviegoers Substance D or the marketing equivalent. And this from someone who loved the first Pirates and appreciated it in large part because it wasn’t your typical heat wave blockbuster.

But I digress. Getting back to Scanner, there's enough to recommend it and hope that its highpoints—the trancelike live action turned animation, the performances, particularly train-wreck-actor Robert Downey Jr.—can get some attention during awards season.

Downey is a master of enlightened drug-fused locution, turning his reading of single words like “murdered” into a kind of poetry. Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson reminds the viewer what a deft comedian he can be, though his range remains in the realm of dumb brick to stoner, Larry Flynt notwithstanding. Then there’s Rory Cochrane, who is like some kind of junkie savant for Linklater. Back in Dazed and Confused he delivered many memorable lines, in particular one likening the dollar bill to marijuana. Here he doesn’t have a huge role, but a sequence in which he makes an important decision concerning a bottle of wine is one of my favorites. The moment is all about his character and doesn’t contribute to the overall story arc, yet it’s perfect.

And I guess that’s the crux of the matter. If I judged A Scanner Darkly as a whole, I’d call it a near miss. But its parts are worth a view. If Downey can get some traction and support, I think he’ll be remembered at the end of the year and into the Oscar season.

As for the rest, it’s such a hard movie to categorize. From what I’ve read it can’t qualify for animated feature—and besides, that tends to be where Oscar throws the kiddy choices. But if it can qualify, I think it should be considered.

To view or not to view...

Glancing over the list of Oscarwatch's first half winners it appears United 93 is the film of the first half. I’m taking a wait-and-see approach because frankly, I’m not sure I’m emotionally ready to see this film…I welcome input from those of you who have. Particularly New Yorkers who were here on Sept. 11, 2001.

Mad Mel

Will Mel Gibson’s new film Apocalypto garner Oscar attention, or has Mel been popping one too many little red Substance D pills?

But where are the pastels?

I’m all set for Miami Vice but I was a bit concerned by the lack of neon colors in the trailer. Will it update and honor the series it’s based on? One would hope so given its Michael Mann’s baby all grown up. I understand that if you’re not making a parody of Don Johnson’s white blazer you have to update it… but I’m also wary of another slick cop film. Please don’t be Bad Boys 3.

Note: This post was first published at

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bright City Lights

"It doesn't get any better than this."
- My friend Terry, just before we sat down for a screening of City Lights in our American Film Comedy class.

I could not love any movie more than I love City Lights. It speaks to my heart, to my soul, to my loneliness, and to my fear of love more than anything else.
-Journal entry, December 15, 1996, 2 AM

Maybe that's what Chaplin had in mind-that all of us are blind, and afraid of being seen at the same time. But the only way to love-and be loved is to see past the barriers, and to let oneself be seen without them.
-Journal entry, January 7, 1997, 11:51 PM

City Lights is the most beautiful film ever made. When I say beauty, I don't mean that it has stunning visuals or superb effects. Its beauty is beneath the surface. Like the clownish tramp played by Charlie Chaplin, it is masked in humor. Only in the end are the lines in his pantomime face revealed.

When that happens, it is one of the most striking moments in cinema history.

But before we get to that point, writer/director Chaplin tells the tale of "A Tramp," who falls in love with a "Blind Flower Girl." She is poor, supporting herself and her grandmother by selling flowers on the street. Chaplin is able to help her out and fool her into thinking he's a wealthy gentleman.

What helps lift the film from schmaltzy love story to work of art is the care Chaplin put into the development of this simple plot. For instance, he struggled for a plausible way for the blind girl to believe Chaplin is rich. The scene that sets up her confusion is choreographed to perfection. Chaplin climbs through the backseat of a parked car, exiting near the girl. When she hears the door close, she asks him to purchase a flower. Enchanted by her beauty, he buys one from her. But as she is getting his change, the real owner of the car returns, shutting the door and making the girl believe Chaplin has gone off. When she calls out to him, Chaplin realizes her mistake and he backs off. Thus, she is fooled into thinking he's much more than a street tramp.

The ruse continues thanks to Chaplin's inebriated relationship with "An Eccentric Millionaire," portrayed by Harry Myers. The running theme of the film is that Chaplin's tramp is only accepted by other members of society if they are somehow "blinded" and cannot see who he really is.

In addition to the pathos of City Lights, Chaplin presents some of the funniest sequences ever seen on film: the first meeting between Chaplin and the millionaire; their subsequent "night on the town"; and perhaps most memorable, a prizefight Chaplin competes in to win money for the girl.

Another interesting aspect of the film involves Virginia Cherrill, who stars as "Blind Flower Girl." Unlike the majority of his female co-stars, Chaplin was not romantically involved with Cherrill, and in fact they didn't get along. In the documentary Unknown Chaplin it tells how Chaplin became frustrated enough with Cherrill to consider replacing her with his lover at the time (and The Gold Rush co-star) Georgia Hale. Chaplin went so far as to film Hale in the film's final scene. But the actress, clearly in love with Chaplin, could not convey the complex emotions that the flower girl must feel in order to give the scene its poignancy. As it turns out, Cherrill was the ideal choice.

While I know some reject City Lights as overly sentimental, I think they have misread the film. Certainly it is on the surface, but to me the film is much deeper. And the emotions evoked by the final scene are more challenging. Chaplin is taking the Tramp, who was already a well-known (if not quite iconic) image when the film came out, and presenting him as more than just the caricature that audiences had come to know and love. It is the most "real" moment for the character-filled with ambiguity. Rather than sentimental, the ending strikes me more as revealing and even risky.

City Lights is a silent film in the sense that there is no "spoken" dialogue. But a beautiful score written by Chaplin compliments it, and as I wrote in my journal entry, it really does "speak" to the viewer. The language of film goes well beyond the dialogue spoken between actors. It is the expressions, the actions, and the looks. Few films demonstrate this connection between viewer and film in the way that City Lights does.

*This review originally ran on the web message board Moviola at

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Favorite Freakin' Movies of All Time

This is a repost of my favorite films, with a few minor changes.

I've only numbered the Top 10 (and I cheat a bit, as you'll see). The rest are listed randomly. The list was originally compiled about a year ago by jogging my memory, plus glancing at several online "greatest film" lists: AFI 100 Years, 100 Movies; Cinescene 100; and IMDB Top 250.

A couple things to keep in mind. These are personal favorites, not necessarily the films I consider the *greatest* -- though obviously there's overlap. Except for the very top of this list (my favorite has held that position for many years) this is a fluid list.

1. City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931) My favorite since the very first time I saw it in a film comedy class back in college. It's incredibly funny, poignant and like most of the films I admire, poses questions about the line between the artist and the audience and the meaning of film. The greatest ending, ever.

I think it's fair to say this film taps into my tendency toward hopeless situations when it comes to love. I know the ending is somewhat hopeful, but I always read a little uncertainty in Virginia Cherrill's performance as the flower girl. It is worth noting that among Chaplin's leading ladies, she was one of the few, perhaps the only one, he never became romantically involved with. He even considered replacing her and filmed scenes with his lover at the time, Georgia Hale. In the end he made the right choice--Cherrill's hesitancy adds poignancy to the scene that Hale's obvious affection never could. Go here to read a longer essay on my City Lights obsession.

2. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson, 2003)
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Peter Jackson, 2002)
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001)

In order to save some room in the "Top 10" I decided to list all three Rings films together. And the truth is, I really do view them as one very long movie. I believe that each can stand alone. Fellowship (the Extended Edition) is arguably the best of the three. But even as I write that I think of how Gollum in The Two Towers gives us the most heartbreaking character of the series; and The Return of the King has the emotional, satisfying conclusion. Yup, it's one long-ass movie. You can read "Diary of a Hobbit Fiend," my series of columns on The Return of the King here.

3. The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)
While I've always loved this film, it took on greater meaning for me in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on my hometown. I went through a very dark period back then and Shawshank, with it's beautiful message of hope, helped me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Just thinking about the ending gives me chills.

4. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
No doubt about it, Casablanca is on all those "best films ever" lists for a good reason. Some of its many merits: Among the greatest and most quotable dialog, ever: "We'll always have Paris," "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she had to walk into mine," "I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world," and of course, "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." It's also a great love triangle where all three people are worth loving (in most films it's so obvious who should get the girl...I'll never be sure with Casablanca). Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid... 'nuff said.

I think it's interesting that one of the most romantic films of all time ends on a note that is more about honor and friendship than love...but then again, perhaps those things are all about love.

5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981) and Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)
Okay, I can't use the same excuse that I did with LOTR... but... let's just consider these my two favorite "OMG I love Harrison Ford!" films from my youth. I just can't choose between Indiana Jones and Han Solo. And both films are an amazing mixture of adventure and comic fun. These have a special place in my heart because they made me fall in love with movies.

6. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
It wasn't until I was older and became more of a cinephile that I saw Samurai and realized that some of the films I loved the most probably wouldn't have been made--or at least not as well--without the brilliant influence of Kurosawa. This film is just one example of his skill and if I was listing my favorite filmmakers of all time, he'd probably top the list.

7. E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
Perfect when I first saw it as a kid. Perfect today. And yeah, it makes me cry like a baby.

8. Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock, 1943)
Joseph Cotten uses his incredible voice to create one of my favorite villains of all time. Hitchcock is also in my top five of directors, and this is my favorite of his works.

9. The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984)
Before he was "King of the World" or did Aliens (among my favorite action films), Cameron worked with The Governator and created this lean, mean, Sci-fi, B-movie masterpiece. I still remember the first time I saw it, in the last row of a theater so packed (before stadium seating) that I had to sit on the back of the seat to see properly.

10. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977) While most of Allen's films are about NYC in some way, this to me is the quintessential NYC film (even more so than Manhattan, which I admire but don't have as much personal affection for) -- It's got some of the greatest observations about life and love, too. I used it as inspiration to break up with a boyfriend once after watching it and realizing that the metaphor used in the film (a dead shark that doesn't move forward) was what my relationship had turned into. You can read more of my thoughts on the film here.

And the rest:

Singin' in the Rain (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1952)
Greatest movie musical, ever.

Schindler's List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
Moving, harrowing... oddly beautiful. I don't love the ending, but everything else is perfect.

Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957)
Greatest war movie, ever.

The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978)
My first experience of "falling in love" with a film character (and having my heart wrenched from me because of what happens...ugh).

Babe (Chris Noonan, 1995)
Greatest talking pig movie, ever. :D

The Purple Rose of Cairo (Woody Allen, 1985)
I love movies about movies, and this is among the best. I think it is compared most often to Keaton, but I actually think it is more in line with Chaplin and the longing to cross the divide between the audience and the screen.

Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988)
Anime film that is seriously one of the saddest films I've ever seen. Period.

Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle(Hayao Miyazaki, 2001 and 2005)
Both are uplifting and magical in so many ways. All of Miyazaki's films have these qualities--he is a unique artist.

Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)
King Lear as interpreted by Kurosawa. Has among the best battle scenes ever filmed.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (James Cameron, 1991)
A great update of the original. Cameron's skills are at his peak here--Titanic may have won all the Oscars, but I think this is his best film (though the first remains my favorite in large part because of mega-crush Kyle Reese).

Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)
If I was 10 years younger, I'd probably put "Before Sunrise," the first in this series, on here instead. As it is, I'm not that young anymore *sob* and I relate more to the characters in the sequel. An amazingly tense film despite being one long conversation between two characters. I wrote more about the film here.

Stand by Me (Rob Reiner, 1986)
River Phoenix, the most tragic loss of a young actor in my time. I can only wonder at what could have been...At least we have his brilliant brother, but the world would be a better place if he was still alive.

The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen, 1998)
The Dude abides...

Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)
Hudson: *Seventeen days?* Hey man, I don't wanna rain on your parade, but we're not gonna last seventeen hours! Those things are gonna come in here just like they did before. And they're gonna come in here...
Ripley: Hudson!
Hudson: ...and they're gonna come in here AND THEY'RE GONNA KILL US!
Ripley: HUDSON! This little girl survived longer than that with no weapons and no training.
[to Newt]
Ripley: Right?
[Newt apes a salute]
Hudson: So why don't you put her in charge?

*I freakin' love Hudson*

Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994)
Another film about film...notice a pattern? This time with Johnny Depp as the greatest bad filmmaker, ever.

Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
I prefer the sequel, but a great, claustrophobic, horror film.

The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)
"Luke I'm your..." (You get the picture.)

The Godfather, Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
I think The Godfather may be a less problematic film (Part II feels a little long, especially the Havana sequence)...but in terms of the emotional drama, Michael Corleone's eroding soul packs a greater punch. And then there's De Niro as the young Vito.

It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934)
Mad-cap screwball comedy at its best, with the sublime Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.

The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962)
I've heard the remake is excellent, though I haven't seen it. The original is a great political thriller.

Moulin Rouge (Baz Luhrmann, 2001)
Incoherent and overly busy in parts, gorgeous as a whole.

The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
Creepiest film and film villain (played by Robert Mitchum)...also contains the single creepiest shot...yikes...

North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
Great chemistry between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint...And where did that plane come from and why is it trying to kill Cary Grant? I love that Hitchcock had the audacity and got away with it. Brilliant stuff.

The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940)
Ahhh, more screwball with the queen, Katharine Hepburn, this time playing off Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.

Platoon (Oliver Stone, 1986)
I was obsessed with this film in High School. From what I've seen of Oliver Stone the person (interviews, a panel discussion I attended after 9/11) he's an arrogant prick... but he is a skilled, intense filmmaker.

The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987)
I love a good fairytale. And it's damn funny, too.

Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
Samuel L. Jackson kicks ass, the soundtrack is genius (not just because the songs are great, but because they *fit* the film, a talent Tarantino has like no other) and the influence on other filmmakers is endless (though not always a good thing).

Sherlock Jr. (Buster Keaton, 1924)
Comedy brilliance (and yet another film that crosses the divide between the audience and the screen--Purple Rose of Cairo is hugely influenced by it) from the other great Silent Screen Legend. I viewed it most recently on Sept. 11, 2006 and it had not lost its charms. You can read my recent thoughts on it here.

The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan, 1999)
Night needs to stop ripping himself off, because you just can't repeat the shock of this film's twist. One of the dumbest things I've ever done when it comes to film viewing is have someone spoil it for me before I saw it. I'll never know if I would have guessed beforehand (the clues pointing to the twist are abundant).

Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
Marilyn Monroe showing she was much more than a dumb blonde while playing the part; Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag. Lemmon is blissfully funny, especially in love.

The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
Jack Lemmon again, this time opposite the adorable Shirley MacLaine in this rather cynical romantic comedy.

Kagemusha (Akira Kurosawa, 1980)
Visually astounding war film and an interesting meditation on identity. Recently came out on Criterion DVD... a later masterpiece from Kurosawa.

Dogfight (Nancy Savoca, 1991)
Another reminder of how much we lost when River died... Begins with a cruel, immature joke and then becomes so much more. A gentle, moving film.

Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)
Hitchcock with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman... Among Hitchcock's most sensual films as the sparks fly between his stars in one of the best examples of onscreen chemistry I can think of.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (Ed Wood, 1959)
Colonel Tom Edwards: ...Why, a particle of sunlight can't even be seen or measured.
Eros: Can you see or measure an atom? Yet you can *explode* one. A ray of sunlight is made up of *many* atoms!
Jeff Trent: So what if we *do* develop this Solanite bomb? We'd be even a stronger nation than now.
Eros: [with disgust] Stronger. You see? You see? You're stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!
Jeff Trent: That's all I'm taking from you!
[pistol-whips Eros upside the head]

(You really have to see the above exchange from the movie to get the full impact.)
That's right: Bad dialog, crap acting, nonsensical plot, bizarre framing device... In other words, greatest bad movie, ever. Pure unintentional comic genius.

The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993)
Beautiful film with a great score.

Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
A great gimmick that works.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003 and 2004)
Kick-ass Uma. Great Tarantino soundtrack.

Glory (Edward Zwick, 1989)
An amazing cast that included Denzel Washington (earning his first Oscar), Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick, Cary Elwes and Andre Braugher (my favorite television actor from my favorite show, "Homicide," back when I still watched tv.)

Hero (Yimou Zhang, 2002)
Martial arts like a ballet. Beautiful.

Breaking Away (Peter Yates, 1979)
Among the best coming of age films ever made.

King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005)
Maybe it's too soon to include, but I just can't deny how much I love this excessive but wonderful film about an ape and his gal. Jackson's love of cinema pops off the screen. Check out more of my Kong Love.

The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
I've never been a huge fan of John Wayne, but this is a remarkable and effective performance. As Ethan Edwards he's still heroic, but also a seething racist. Then there's those Monument Valley vistas: breathtaking.