Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Great (film) Debates vol. 1

Today we start a new series at CommentaramaFilms, where a panel of regulars will debate various film issues. Today's issue:
Do you remember the end of The Time Machine when Rod Taylor took two books back to the future to rebuild society? Suppose the Great Zombie Apocalypse destroyed Hollywood. What three films would you use to rebuild Hollywood?

Panelist: ScottDS

1. Citizen Kane (1941): Like it or hate it, there's no denying the effect this film had on the industry as well as the various cinematic techniques that were innovated by Orson Welles and his collaborators. There are of course earlier, equally-influential films but this one is a little more palatable than, say, Birth of a Nation. "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper."

2. Jaws (1975): The prototypical summer blockbuster. Endlessly entertaining with impeccable technical credits (mechanical shark notwithstanding), a memorable music score, perfect editing, likable characters, quotable dialogue, and still the bar by which all "killer animal" films are measured. If only today's summer blockbusters were half as entertaining. "That's some bad hat, Harry."

3. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991): A cautionary tale of what can happen during the production of a film. Natural disasters, logistical problems, cost overruns, and issues with various actors all conspired to nearly destroy the life and career of director Francis Ford Coppola. "If Marty dies, I wanna hear that everything's okay until I say, 'Marty is dead.'"

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

1. Ben-Hur (1959): This well-made spectacular has a lot of good things going on. You can see life under the oppressive thumb of the Roman empire. You can see and discuss different ways to react, e.g. violence vs. the way of Jesus. And you get the notion of Ben-Hur being "a tale of the Christ" but not so much to advocate a specific religion as to see the highly moral way that Jesus acts.

2. Amadeus (1984): I want my rebuilt future society to be aware of the necessity of music in order to live well. Can there be anything better than Mozart?

3. The Fountainhead (1949): I want my future society to understand the value of being true to one's self, of not giving in to the whim's of the masses. Rugged individualism. That's my story and I'm sticking to it ;-)

Panelist: T-Rav

1. The Matrix (1999): I don't agree with all of its philosophical implications, but as far as adventure films go, this one is the bomb. The characters are relatable (especially Neo, but even the bad guys like Cypher and Agent Smith), and the movie gets you invested in their struggles right off the bat. Perhaps more importantly for film-making, this is a worthy template for future productions. There's more than enough on the surface to get people watching, but the plot turns out to be so much more than an action flick, something that can be cleverly disguised under all the slo-mo clips. And the plot elements are revealed with perfect timing, with an excellent musical score to match. Despite the crappy sequels, I can still watch this movie when it comes on TV and get sucked in over and over again.

2. It's a Wonderful Life (1946): Honestly, I don't really like this movie all that much; yes, I know it's a holiday staple and blah blah blah. It's just not that captivating for me. What I do like, though, is its ability to portray people at their very best--selfless, generous, civic-minded, etc., qualities epitomized by Mr. George Bailey. Partly, I included this film because I consider it to be inherently conservative, something Hollywood desperately needs to be exposed to; but there's more to it than that. Art, be it film, literature, painting, or whatever, is meant to be uplifting. It can certainly show people in their basest and most corrupt modes, but if it is to have a moral purpose as well, then it should also show what people are capable of achieving at their very best. It's a Wonderful Life is perhaps the best cinematic proof that humans have the divine spark within them, and that it can be put to use.

3. The Godfather (1972): Unlike a lot of people, I like the original better than the also-excellent Part II, mainly because it gives more time to a wider range of characters. There's a reason why this is #3 on AFI's list of Top 100 American Films: it's a truly excellent storytelling method. The Godfather proves that you can tell a long and complicated story without driving people away. The moral degradation of the Corleone family doesn't climax until the sequel, but you can still see the dark road Michael, in particular, is traveling and where it will likely end. And the film's told with beautiful cinematography and too many unforgettable scenes to list -- but the best may be Michael's attendance of his nephew's baptism, simultaneous with the assassination of his rivals.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

1. Pulp Fiction (1994): The first thing I wanted was a stylized film, something that was hip and excellently combined music and action. Pulp Fiction is it. Using a great soundtrack, expertly mixed with the action to enhance the visuals, cool dialog that shows that not every moment in a film must be a slave to a specific plot point, and a nonlinear plot that shows you can really play with the human brain, this was an easy first choice.

2. Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948): Next, I wanted something black and white because I don't want that to become a lost art. I also wanted something unique and highly emotionally charged. With a story involving a movie star we all root for slowly turning evil as he is overcome by gold lust, moments of dread, and a totally heartbreaking scene as they read the letter of the man they have killed, Sierra Madre fits the bill perfectly.

3. Fellowship of the Ring (2001): This was a hard choice. I wanted Dr. Zhivago for its great score and incredible scenery and its ability to present a long story arc, but I also needed something with great special effects. Ring may have ruined its most touching moments, but it has incredibly beautify scenery, a solid score, a long story arc, and a deep backstory for its characters. It also has fantastic effects and costumes AND simultaneously provides a cautionary tale about the misuse of CGI.

Comments? Thoughts? What films would you choose and why?


Anonymous said...

I was torn on Hearts of Darkness. I knew I wanted some kind of "cautionary tale" on my list but I didn't know whether to choose this or Apocalypse Now itself. I also pondered Heaven's Gate but I've never seen it and while the film was a fiasco, it isn't as fondly remembered as Apocalypse Now, which only proves that great art can result from an adverse creative process. (He said in a rather ham-handed fashion.) :-)

Interesting choices (and great films) all around. I'm surprised Casablanca didn't make it.

thundercatkp said...

1. Braveheart(1995): I don't know if it's historically correct or not, I don't care. Actors can be directors and end up with a pretty decent film...not to mention maybe Hollywood would think about putting men in kilts a little more.

2. The breakfast Club(1985): Or any feel good 80's movie with the Brat Pack and/or John Hughes directed,produced or wrote.

3.Aaah! Zombies(Wasting Away)(20??): Zombies have feelings too you know. It was made zombies not as scary seeing it from their point of view. Maybe this film would help Hollywood to laugh at it's self a little. Instead of trying to save the world...

That's a tough one...would there still be internet? iPads? I'm thinking personal secret storage...bootlegged movies.

T-Rav said...

Figures I'd be the most long-winded. Again. (sigh) Anyway, I had a hard time picking these; I could get it down to five or six good ones, but it was hard to pick the best of the best. Got me thinking, though. Great picks, everyone!

Anonymous said...

T-Rav -

I'm usually the long-winded one but Andrew stressed to me in the e-mail: "SHORT answers!" Just like the government guy telling Indiana Jones: "TOP men." :-)

LawHawkRFD said...

1. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

2. The Ten Commandments

3. Spartacus

Koshcat said...

Only three? Very difficult and with such good answers already.

1. Star Wars (before Lucas screwed it up) - same idea as Jaws, what a summer block buster should be but something I can take the kids to without freaking them out.

2. Casablanca - not just because it was mentioned but a film that I have recently rediscovered. The plot is basic but the subplots make it more complex and an example of doing what is right.

3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - despite being in Mandarin (Warning: do not watch this movie dubbed in English, it ruins it) the story pulled me in entirely. The language is beautiful almost musical. A great example how to use CGI and special effect to tell a fantasy story. After this movie I really wanted to learn how to stand on a thin tree branch without falling.

T-Rav said...

Scott, in my defense, I wrote this in complete ignorance of what everyone else was doing, so I was crossing my fingers that it wasn't the longest. Should've known...

Also, should I find myself shut up in a wooden box and carted off into a government warehouse for displeasing Andrew, let him know I want a couple of air holes. And a snack.

BoilerRoomElf said...

Hey, the Elves here, just letting everyone know that Bossman Andrew had slight medical issue and is in the hospital to be thoroughly checked out. He's ok, but they are keeping him to run some tests.

That's all we've been told down here in the boiler room for now, but we'll keep you posted when know more.

thundercatkp said...


I hope he is ok...if you can sneak a fortune cookie in...Message reads: what ever you do DON'T make your nurse mad/aggravated/unstable in anyway...nurses control everything your eating, what meds you take, how long it takes to get med to you, and the Docs will believe them over you....;) Get well

T-Rav said...

???? Is this a prank? Because it doesn't sound like it.

Joel Farnham said...

I am going to depart from the rules and go with TV series.

1. Firefly

2. Highlander (TV series)

3. I Love Lucy

BoilerRoomElf said...

Sorry, T-Rav, unfortunately, not a prank. :( Bossman Andrew is still in the hospital, but hopes to be out tomorrow. He says "hello!" to everyone! We're heading back over to keep him company.

rlaWTX said...

Since it is Monday, I hope that Andrew is back safe and well at home!

Excellent lists, y'all!
For the B&W category, my favorite is "The Philadelphia Story" - Cary Grant! Katherine Hepburn! Jimmy Stewart! Plus it has a warning about demonizing a "class" and a warning against "journalists" who are out to make a point... did I mention Cary Grant!?!

AndrewPrice said...

I'll try to catch up with the comments later tonight, sorry about ducking out this weekend.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I hope everything is okay, Andrew.

Oh, and don't eat hospital food if you can help it (when I was in the hospital my wife smuggled in some good and edible food).

Also, the nurses get upset if they catch you getting your own ice.
Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

You're forgiven. This time. :-)

Looking forward to the comments!

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Great pick and discussion!

1. Rio Bravo-
John Wayne! Dean Martin! Gabby Hayes! Rick Nelson!
Doin' the right thing in the face of overwhelming odds.
You can't not like these characters and story.

2. Serenity-
One of the best, modern conservative films!
Demonstrates the dangers of leftism/statism/collectivism all with "good" intentions...intentions that kill!

Liberty vs tyranny wrapped in a compelling story with characters we come to care for and root for as they struggle to get the truth out.

Included is a complex bad guy who thinks he's doing the right thing and sounds like virtually every leftist politician today.
When he is finally forced to see (and consequently accept) the terrible truth about what the State has done you can literally see his eyes open.

3. Big Trouble In Little China-
At first glance this may be mistaken for a good (and very entertaining) B movie but repeat viewings will reveal a much deeper film than most A movies and does so better.

Great music, great pacing, great story, writing, acting, and directing!
Pretty much the entire movie is quotable.
Definitely deserved an Oscar IMO and my favorite Carpenter film.

3. A Tie-
The Outlaw Josey Wales-
This is my favorite Eastwood flick.
He may be a reluctant hero but he accepts the role anyway when push comes to shove and puts his life on the line to protect (and train) a magnificent cast of characters.

What's not to love about this flick?

I would say more but I'm tryin' to at least say less than T-Rav (good joib BTW!). :^)

AndrewPrice said...

Commentwise, let me start by saying that I listed the wrong Rings film. I meant to list The Two Towers, but I didn't realize I'd made that mistake until after I was taken away from my computer. . . with extreme prejudice.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think the problem with taking AN instead of HoD is that AN doesn't show any signs of the chaos that surrounded it -- it's brilliantly put together. So if your point was to warn people about danger, then you chose correctly.

On the choices overall, I agree that they are very interesting.

AndrewPrice said...

Thundercatkp, I really enjoyed Ahh! Zombies -- what a fun idea and well executed!

Braveheart has a lot of fans, that's for sure -- especially conservatives.

Anonymous said...

. . . with extreme prejudice.

I see what you did there. :-)

Thanks, and it's good to have you back.

I don't have much more to add, only to take a hint from Joel and maybe we can do TV shows one day.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott and T-Rav, I agree... difficult question, great answers.

As for being long winded, I wasn't going to say anything, but this was the first question so it's hard to know what to expect.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Better than Mr. Smith Goes To Spartacus!

AndrewPrice said...


Nice selections to a difficult question! I totally agree about Star Wars before Lucas screwed it up. Boy did he screw it up -- he completely misunderstood what made the original such a great film.

I thought about Casablanca, but I went with Sierra Madre because of the good guy turning bad and the letter home. To me, those were the deciding factor. Otherwise, I love both movies.

Crouching Tiger -- excellent film. I actually like Hero better, but both are excellent. And I agree, see them with subtitles, not dubbed. Good point about the CGI too -- it enhances the story, it doesn't take over the story.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I will make sure you get some snacks. I can't promise the air holes, but I can promise I will feel really bad about it if I don't try. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

thundercatkp, Good advice! Always endear yourself to secretaries and nurses. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, It wouldn't be Commentarama if people didn't depart from the rules!

Interesting choices! I especially like the Firefly choice.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Thanks! I'm back. :-)

That's a great movie and a timely movie. I guess Obama never saw it?

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, The food was actually surprisingly good until the put me on the cardiac unit where they took away anything that could excite the flavor center of the brain. . . and thereby kill you.

Ice cream... yum!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Scott, Glad it only took a heart attack to get a free pass! ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

ben, Excellent list. Serenity certainly has attracted a lot of conservative fans. And rightly so, it's got a lot to love going on.

Rio Bravo, good call -- John Wayne's response to High Noon.

I love Big Trouble very fun movie with a good deal of cultural insight. It's got some great quotes too.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, So you see what I've done do you? LOL!

We can do tv shows at some point, definitely.

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