#500 Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Clocking in at the exact halfway point of Schneider’s original 1001, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby is the French-Polish director’s first Hollywood film and one of four of his films on the list. Mia Farrow’s performance as a soon-to-be mother careening toward uncertainty is utterly spectacular, switching her audience’s belief of whether she is suffering severe pre-partum paranoia, a reasonable distrust and crumbling allegiance of friends and family, or the terrifying question as to whether the Dali-esque rape sequence was a dream or reality.

This film’s early horror genre is in amazing hands with Polanksi’s interpretation of the pulpy book, “weaving together…(a) taut, focused, building sense of dread…(still keeping audiences of today) in awe of (his) detail, his rhythm and pacing, his skill with his actors, and the fine script he adapted for the screen” (). A magnificent flick that features Ruth Gordon in her much-too-delayed Oscar-Winning role as Best Supporting Actress, Rosemary’s Baby is a film that by all standards shouldn’t hold up today, and yet does so with such energy and gusto that it can only be credited to Polanski’s vision and its striking observation of the horrors and uncertainty of the mysteries of even the most perfect modern pregnancy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary%27s_Baby_(film)

This is also officially the first time one of our regular posts has been able to crossover with Movie Posters By Me! Check out Episode 18 below…

Jennifer

Well… I am very glad I didn’t watch this movie while I was pregnant. In my opinion, this movie is pretty perfect from start to finish.  There is a slow but steady build up of dread that compelled me to watch more as the feeling of more and more bad terrible things are coming. The genius of this movie, besides its remarkable actors, is a breathless waiting for the “gotcha” part. At so many different points I was positive something terrible was going to happen – but didn’t.  Most of the movie leaves one to guess about what is and is not real or imagined. Who is sinister? Who is pretending? How much of it is in Rosemary’s head?  The last 20 minutes of the movie are a perfect roller coaster dive of action and revelation.  After watching it, I realized how perfectly every little moment of the film is – so many things I barely noticed at first ended up being significant to the ending of the film. The location and the mood of the movie are perfect, with Rosemary’s apartment itself established in the very first scene of the movie as being that significant prison that the atmosphere of the piece as a whole rests upon. A great film.

Garrett

I really enjoyed Rosemary’s baby. I am not one to get scared by any paranormal entities at all, especially those surrounding religion, but what sets this film apart from much of the hype that surrounds those tropes is the fact that Polanski has directed a film that puts its weight on questioning the pregnant-hysteria of his protagonist, the structure of her social and emotional support systems, and almost in hindsight, the possibility that this is the child of some horrific devil-entity. I think Polanski did an incredible job in structure and execution, the various surreal scenes being edited in such a way that they generally didn’t feel as ridiculous as I am sure they could have been in any less capable hands. When it got to the end, in my opinion, the reveal was a little disappointing for me, however, I can easily blame that for my brand of 2017 skepticism. Still, from dialogue to editing, camera work to performances, it is easy to understand what makes this film have such staying power – and for something made in the late sixties to early seventies, it is easy for something like this to age poorly. This is certainly credited to Polanski’s adept filmmaking. Finally, just as Jenn mentioned, there was a point where we turned to each other and said, “imagine what it would have been like to watch this pregnant?” Mine was at the line where the doctor told her not to read any books and talk to any friends about her pregnancy. If there is anything I can say that this film nails the most (and I sincerely mean this without any irony or the hyperbole the film clearly contains), it is the confusing, complicated, bizarre, troubling, and terrifying process of modern pregnancy… for everyone involved.

#404 Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Lawrence of Arabia is a true epic Hollywood film that brings audiences to another time and place while also managing to be in-your-face with its production value balancing a subtle art and metaphor in a super-long, super-technicolor manner that you don’t seem to mind even though several hours have passed. Lawrence “epitomizes all that motion pictures can be…from Maurice Jarre’s sweeping score to Robert Bolt’s literary script to Freddie Young’s Gorgeous desert cinematography to the literal cast of thousands,” Lean’s beautiful film presents “the follies of colonialism and the hypocrisies of war” as a “true epic with the scope and scale of great literature” (Klein).

We watched the film over several nights, and we were surprised how often we found ourselves gasping out loud, pointing out something huge and amazing to one another, and finding ourselves swept up in the scale and brilliance of a film that deserves every single accolade that has been heaped on it. We promised that when the opportunity to see the film in 4k or 70mm arises that we will drop everything and make the trip. This film is simply definitively moviemaking – tell an original story with a message in a unique way that only cinema can capture. Lean’s film is unparalleled, human, global, and timeless. O’Toole’s performance of the enigmatic and troubled Lawrence is stunning, with his bright blue eyes cutting through the screen the entire film. Just as remarkable was Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali. Lawrence of Arabia is a masterpiece.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_of_Arabia_(film)

Garrett

I was absolutely floored that I had never seen this film. I knew little about it going into it, and frankly, I was ignorant to what O’Toole was doing in the costume and perhaps that wasn’t dust but unfortunate makeup and a hundred other unfortunate casting decisions right down the line as early Hollywood was wont to do. That said, I was incredibly surprised at what Lean and O’Toole delivered – and I went on to do some research about T.E.Lawrence and learned some really interesting political, social, and personal details about a man whose life was cut way too short.

This film was spectacular. I loved every moment that I spent watching it with Jenn. It is moving, it is huge, it is spectacular, it is exciting, and it is perfect in so many ways. I love that Lean spared no expense, and the fact that it was cast so well with thousands of real actors, it was shot on location at real locations, and there were hundreds of tiny deliberate decisions to make the most perfect film, one can really appreciate that this was a real film without any CGI to pad any aspect of what we were watching in 2017. Everything felt true, from the scorching sun to the horses to the costume and palatial sets, and nothing replaces that.

A magnificent film I wouldn’t mind watching again and again – like a book, it feels like I could toss this DVD in and pick it up wherever I please and watch for twenty minutes or the full three and a half hours, and find the same awe and wonder as the first time I saw it. Looking forward to catching it when it hits theaters again, as it inevitably will.

Jennifer

This movie is majestic in every possible way. I have never (and probably never will again) see a movie like this. Every part of this movie revolves around the desert. It’s the main character, it’s the major problem, and the solution in the narrative.The ability to view the desert of Arabia and so many authentic actors at this time in history is fascinating. I wish I could have really seen this movie in the theater.

Lean brilliantly casts Peter O’Toole, who delivers an impressive performance. The way his character evolves from the beginning to the end of the movie was captivating. Omar Sharif delivers an equally captivating performance.

Omar Sharif perfectly sums up this movie:

“If you are the man with the money and somebody comes to you and says he wants to make a film that’s four hours long, with no stars, and no women, and no love story, and not much action either, and he wants to spend a huge amount of money to go film it in the desert–what would you say?”

In our time, this area of the world is again in the spotlight so there was an added level of relevance to this movie. I really knew nothing about this region at this time in history, and I did a bunch of research on the real Lawrence after watching the film. His story is fascinating on its own. Combined with the authentic setting and perfect casting, the four hours of this film felt like mere moments.

#242 In A Lonely Place (1950)

In a Lonely Place is easily one of Humphrey Bogart’s best roles, effortlessly performing a very personal role in the midst of a noir piece that is unlike any other in his career. When screenwriter Dix Steele is accused of murdering a woman he barely knows for no reason whatsoever, besides a penchant for snapping in short-fused violence, he has to convince his intimate circle that he is innocent of a terrible crime… that he may or may not have committed for no reason besides the thrill of the act. This “(unique) romantic and doom-haunted noir drama” was a fantastic flick (Newman).

We watched In A Lonely Place on Criterion, #810.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_a_Lonely_Place

Jennifer

This movie was definitely not what I was expecting.  We have watched a few noir films from this time,  and this one is by far the bleakest.  Humphrey Bogart gives a performance with such a huge range – he’s charming and witty in one scene, and threatening and violent in the next.  His character changes with little or no warning and with great ferocity.  The story keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat, as you race to figure out who committed the murder set up at the beginning.  Is Gloria Graeme in danger with Bogart?  Is Bogart being set up?  You will change you mind back and forth as this movie makes you doubt what you know, what you think you know, and what you hope is (or is not!) true.

The theme and style is a great blend of the very best of the late 1940’s  and early 1950’s thriller/film noir vibe.  I loved the set and the look of Bogart’s apartment.  I liked this movie particularly because many of the characters are flawed.  There is no happy ending or easy resolution to this movie.  The actors were not hesitant to make themselves prickly or unlikable.

Garrett

I really enjoyed this film, and that is unusual for me because in many instances I have thought that Bogart was an actor with a relatively limited range. Up until this point, I have seen a man who has kept his reputation as a performer perhaps only as far as nostalgia has been able to take him. But in this piece, I was impressed at the range and talent in his characterization of Steele. In one of the Criterion special features we watched, it was apparent that this might have been because it was a character that really helped him process and perform in a manner that was somewhat close to who he was as a person – and it makes sense how this would diverge from the character he usually seems to have ready to go in his back pocket.

I enjoyed this movie. The writing and direction were on point. Some of my favorite elements had to do with some of the exterior shots and the design of the sets that managed to heighten the setting frozen in time a little more intentionally than many of the films from the era. The set itself was based on and duplicated real places where the piece was set, and that certainly helped with this feeling of genuine celluloid reality.

For this film, I did not read Dorothy B. Hughes’ novel, but I was interested to read in Schneider that the ending differs from the original text in one key way. Also, the process and mental mise en scene of the career, art, and anxieties of writing is perfectly captured in this film more than any other than I have seen to this point – except perhaps in Jonze/Kaufman’s Adaptation.

 

Check out this great article from The Library of America’s The Moviegoer, In A Lonely Place: Film Noir as an Opera of Male Fury by Carrie Rickey (linked above)

#1176 Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy is James Gunn’s exciting, dramatic, hilarious, and engaging interpretation of the more recent incantation of the Marvel comic book team. Focusing on a small team of outlaws whose goals, motivations, and reactions could not be any more disparate, their mission is to save the galaxy by reclaiming a device that would end everything in the wrong hands. Of course, it is often in the wrong hands – the guardians included. But this film is difficult to categorize into any one genre or style of film, making it accessible and enjoyable for just about all audiences (we watched it for the second time with our eight-year-old after deeming it was appropriate for him – and he loved it just as much as our parents in their sixties did). A brilliant, exciting, enjoyable, and most importantly, different addition to the superhero epoch we’re currently in. Even if all the rest of them disappeared tomorrow, there is no question that Guardians will remain as an excellent piece of cinema.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guardians_of_the_Galaxy_(film)

 

Jennifer

This is everything you could ask for in a movie – smart, snappy dialogue, great character development, impressive but not relentless special effects and a very unlikely (but likable!) hero.

Guardians of the Galaxy is ridiculously fun film experience.  The movie zips along with a fantastic soundtrack.  I am not a huge fan of the typical superhero movie, but this movie has no typical superheroes.  Each scene is laced with just the right amount of humor and sarcasm, without going for an easy laugh or being too into itself.

We are very much looking forward to the sequel next month (the eight-year-old included!).

Garrett

First, this is probably my favorite of our images I have thrown together so far.

Second, James Gunn. I have been a fan of Gunn’s for a long time – completely separate from anything that he has made in the more mainstream film industry. Gunn is central to most of the independent Troma Team products of the past twenty years, and it is no surprise that Lloyd Kaufman has a blatant and beautiful momentary cameo in the GOTG prison sequence. Given his sense of humor, the budget of Guardians, the genre and subject matter of the film, and the final product, Guardians of the Galaxy would not have been the same with the vision of any other director. Gunn was simply perfect.

Finally, I absolutely love this film. It isn’t entirely what one might consider one of the 1001 movies to see before you die, but I completely agree with its place on the list. When we first watched it a few years ago, I remember being upset that we missed it in the movie theater. The film has humor, soul, action, adventure, and characters you can’t help but love. Ultimately, the beauty of this film stands on a solid foundation of having great writing, great characters, great direction, and great actors who all work together to gestate a little exciting comic masterpiece of action, adventure, and heart. I will surely return to this film again and again, and I am really looking forward to Volume 2.

 

Hitchcock The Birds BeforeWeDieFilms.com

#414 The Birds (1963)

An enigma of a story that is probably Hitchcock’s only true horror movie, The Birds may perhaps be categorized as the first zombie movie as we know it today. A small fishing village is terrorized by birds for no reason. There is blood. There is running. There are empty eye-holes. There is a back story with some convoluted relationships and some uncertainty as to what is going down between a group of shifty female characters and their pasts – and all hovering around vying for the attention of one man. Is it for his hand in marriage? A tryst? Revenge?

There is no doubt that this story is incredibly enjoyable to watch. Hitchcock takes Daphne Du Maurier’s short story and weaves us throughout the maze of the tiny little village of Bodega Bay. Confounding homes, weaving roads, cliffs, and the gulls themselves constantly raise the stakes for Hitchcock’s characters and our nerves much like David Lynch does with his characters many years later. On the edge of our seats, we learn that even the actors weren’t safe as Hedren was “famously…led to a nervous breakdown (as a result of an) increasingly sadistic work ethic too intense for her to handle” (Klein). Truly a masterpiece of a macabre onslaught of horror and death, The Birds is a spooky tale with nary a purpose but to evoke terror in a manner that only Alfred Hitchcock can.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birds_(film)

Garrett

I loved this story, if only for the fact that it was a wholly engaging tale that picked you up, swung you around, and slammed you down only to wonder what and why it just happened. We never get an answer – the closest to one is that the women have a past with our handsome man at the center of the tale – but more realistically, the only point? Residents of this small community: get out while you’re still alive. This trope, copied hundreds of times in recent memory, has become a staple of zombie movies and video games. Hitchcock may have been the first to realize that, as two-dimensional as this structure is, the damn thing can captivate an audience.

I was captivated.

I was enthralled by the special effects. The combination of real animal actors, puppetry, and a variety of overlay and masking techniques of previously shot footage holds up surprisingly well today. I watched it, I know how he did it, but I don’t know how he got it to look so damn good. As a matter of fact, I would challenge any filmmaker today to make something half as convincing using digital effects when the analog and practical effects worked so well. Along with his team, Hitchcock was a clear master of color correction, lighting, and editing.

A nail-biting, exciting, funny (when the ornithologist showed up in that costume, I practically died), and endearing, The Birds is a great film. Final note, I am pretty sure I saw this once before when I was on a Hitchcock kick at thirteen or so and I remember thinking to myself that there was something about the relationships I just wasn’t getting and that the old lady had something to do with the birds – and that it would come to me when I am more mature. I am pleased to say, a couple decades later, that it wasn’t me. It’s really all there is, and that makes this film a beautiful thing.

Jennifer

Having heard the premise of this story many times, I thought, how scary can a movie from 1963 be? It’s about birds….

Cue my absolute terror at seeing a few geese during my recess duty last week.

So many parts of this film work brilliantly.  There are no answers.  Nothing is spelled out for the viewer.  The suspense and the horror of the birds build so slowly in his movie.  First just one bird, then a few, then a flock.  After seeing this movie I began to notice birds everywhere. Evil feathered monsters snuck up on me, their potential terrorizing my senses.  Most questions I had about the characters, the plot, and the bird are never answered or explained in this film – such a powerful technique.  Garrett and I speculated for days.   

For most of the beginning of the movie, I was waiting for the male lead (Rod Taylor) to end up being the evil at the root of the film. Then there are strange and peculiar interactions with the people in the town of Bodega Bay. The people in the stores and restaurants all seem suspicious of our out of towner protagonist. Was it the men at the dock? The town school teacher? His mother? I’m still not sure if she had anything to do with it…

The scenes with the birds attacking are terrifying.  They are so scary I could barely watch them (even after mocking the concept of it before viewing. I mean, birds?).  How was Hitchcock able to do these scenes with live birds?  Even some of the more ridiculous special effects, like the fake blood, which clearly, obviously, looks like fake blood, are truly scary in the context of this film. After a slow buildup of suspense and terror, the ending of the film is relentlessly horrifying. There are no breaks or reprieves.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie quite like this.

#485 Le Samouraï (1967)

Le Samouraï is a gorgeous film that is almost definitively 1960s New Wave cinema. In the film, we follow Jef Costello as he tries to navigate the perils of the police and his employers stalking him after a botched hit. Costello is a lone-wolf assassin who balances allegiances with stealth and interpersonal political intrigue. With clockwork-accuracy, Jean-Pierre Melville builds a 1960s Paris universe from the ground up through the lens of his debonair, accurate, stealthy and deliberate contract killer. Costello can only be described as the stereotypical samurai of samurais in the hip French modernist style of the 60s. Melville’s Paris is a world that has never existed and will never exist again – a west-coast-cool Paris in a magnetic hour and a half visual love letter in beautiful color, stark composition, measured framing, gorgeous setting, and sharp costuming. This film, with its angular performances and obsessive shooting, is absolutely gorgeous – from where everything sits in the frame down to the meticulous detail of single gestures. As a “breathtaking work, stylized to the point of asphyxiation…(that has led) Paul Thomas Anderson via Quentin Tarantino and Walter Hill (to plunder) it as the veritable Bible of cool moves,” this flick is as snazzy hot as it gets, and it led Garrett to consider throughout the film, “boy was I born in the wrong year…” (Martin).

We watched Le Samourai on Criterion (#306) that featured two great interviews on the special features.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Samoura%C3%AF

Jennifer

Extraordinary film!  One of the best things about this movie is how the narrative explodes from a seemingly straightforward plot (man kills man, tries to avoid police) to an increasingly intricate and intertwine story.   This movie grabs you from the very first scene and relentlessly holds you tight.  A large chunk of the beginning of the movie has no dialogue, as we watch the protagonist Jef Costello (Alain Delon) in action.  The first few minutes of the movie set the stage for the rest of the narrative to unravel and reveal itself.  Not one moment or scene is wasted.

The movie has an ice cold vibe and is extremely stylized in 1960’s fashion.  Interestingly, Delon’s girlfriend in the movie was his actual wife (at the time of the filming). They have a scorching on-screen chemistry in a movie in which the characters are otherwise unemotional.

Madonna’s 2012 song Beautiful Killer is a tribute to Alain Delon.  In the song, she conjures up moments of Le Samouraï and to Delon’s Jef Costello.

Extremely enjoyable movie to watch.  This is one of the films that makes me grateful for this project – without our 1001 Films Before We Die book, I would not have had the pleasure of viewing this movie.

 

Garrett

But seriously, the whole time I was like, “I was born in the wrong year.”

This movie is too cool for its own good. Alain Delon cuts through Paris with the accuracy of a razor. He is a sexy, sharp, cold man who commands every scene with a single glance. The result is a feeling of freshness and awe as he weaves in and out of the streets and the subways. He not only has command over the audience for the entirety of the film, but in much the same way, all of the characters around him are similarly captivated by him. More than anything, we seemingly feel like we are the ones who can empathize with being bewitched by Costello as much as those around him rather than empathizing with Costello himself.

The music, the costumes, the action, the suspense, the women, the deceit, and the ending all morph together to create a truly excellent film that was a pleasure to watch. Perhaps what is most beautiful about Melville’s film is its attention to detail and obsessive perfection. A true monument that freezes the 1960s in time – an almost hyperreal, perfect 1960s. The 1960s of dreams. The love, the awe, the splendor of 1960s Paris. It was all a great deal of fun to step in and be a part of for an hour and a half.

#92 The Thin Man (1934)

This is one of our favorite films of all time. The Thin Man is an American crime film based on the book by the great crime novelist Dashiell Hammett, and mirrors great British crime films such as Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle in terms of structure, humor, and execution – but of course, The Thin Man comes with a celluloid polish and Hollywood panache. Rarely without a drink in their hand, this boozy couple is as funny as they are effective private eyes, and they go off to figure out the motive and suspect in a cold-blooded crime that all leads to a dinner scene that would make Poirot feel jealous and ripped off. Shot over fourteen days, this film (and its sequels, except for the last one maybe) is a slice of Hollywood crime heaven that is sincerely a treat to watch if only for the “snappy banter full of covetable lines between the rich, sophisticated Nora and her sharp lush of a husband.”

When we watch, no only do we love watching Loy and Powell, but we fantasize being Nick and Nora. Of course, if you’re a fan and never listened to The Thrilling Adventure Hour‘s sendoff Beyond Belief, in which Frank and Sadie Doyle do Nick and Nora with a paranormal twist, you’re missing out on quite a treat.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thin_Man_(film)

Jennifer

This movie is an excellent marriage of excellent comedic writing and perfect performances by the actors.  There is also an adorable little dog.

This movie has the vibe of one long, endlessly fantastic cocktail hour, with plot twists and turns unraveling almost unnoticed. It is almost impossible not to be distracted by the magnetic chemistry between actors Powell and Loy. They later starred in multiple Thin Man films together, reprising their roles as the ever cool Nick and Nora.

Powell and Loy clearly carry the film.  They remain cool, calm, and quick witted.  The story itself has several great twists and turns, and while the story itself didn’t blow me away, the acting by Loy and Powell more than make up for it.  It was shot from start to finish in just two weeks.  The director often used the first shot if it was done well, not wanting the actors to “loose their fire” with having to do multiple takes on the same scenes.  This probably helped keep the momentum up and helped to contribute to the rapid fire, high energy volley that Loy and Powell are known for in the Thin Man movies.

This movie is pure fun.

Garrett

I mean, in a world where every sentence seems to drip with witty repartee, and martinis can be guzzled all day long by the gallon without any social, mental, or physiological consequences, enter Nick and Nora and their adorable little dog. They seem to have the best jobs (not really sure how often they have to work, but it isn’t very often), the best wardrobe, the biggest smiles, the best parties, and the lost laid back lives imaginable… until a body shows up…and then everything even more so.

I watched these for the first time through in my early twenties, and this is the first time that I watched one since. It still holds up as easily being one of the tightest comedy-mysteries ever made. It likely has a lot to do with the execution of the perfect balance of suspense, fun, humor, and strong leading stars. The other thing, and this is my main complaint about Hollywood today, is that the writing is so incredibly strong – almost central to the execution of the film – and that likely has a lot to do with filmmakers wanting to make sure that their pieces can be carried with the strength and intensity of the theater. This piece could easily be set on a stage rather than on film and the audience holds the same level of engagement and attention as the film does, but films today do not necessarily have to hold the audience’s attention with great writing, they just need to exist and have a name that pulls people to the box office.

A big difference was that I decided to pick up Hammett’s book to read after I watched it this time since I had never read the novel. So, the movie is great, but its contents is definitely a movie that has censorship board written all over it. It keeps the witty banter and the sly, excellent characterization, but there is a great deal that is not covered in the film likely because of a variety of cultural mores at the time. This includes a subplot involving heroin (or… laudanum, or something like that) and a complete retelling of the Alfred Packer cannibalism case. Also, the murders are more brutal, the sex more apparent, the women looser, the booze stronger, and language like a sailor. It was an excellent book, told strictly through Nick’s point of view. Where the film is more playful, the novel is more gritty and noir – and a great deal better than I was expecting. While the movie was excellent, after reading the book I recognize how much of a product of the times it is in terms of how they chose to execute it… But both are great works of art on their own legs.

To coincide with their release of a collection of Hammet’s works, The Library Of America published this excellent little essay on the book and film.