Monday, August 06, 2007

Most Rewatchable Movies

I've written here before (and fairly recently) about the movies I consider to be the best ever made. Among that group would be such films as, say, Citizen Kane, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Chinatown, The Godfather, and suchlike.

But would I want to watch those films every day? Not necessarily. I'm not always in the mood for, say, an incredibly complex murder mystery with a bleak and devastating climax, or a three-hour gangster epic, even if it does involve James Caan getting machine gunned to pieces. (Spoiler for Citizen Kane!)

Then there are those films which, if I happen to run across them just starting on TV, I have to watch them. I'll just give up on whatever else I was going to do for the next couple hours, and plop down on the couch for the long haul. Even if I just saw them last week. I mostly can't defend them as being among cinema's greatest accomplishments. But I love 'em, and I can't get enough of 'em. They're my most rewatchable movies

State-of-the-art bang-bang!

Now, if you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I would consider RoboCop a cinematic great. Certainly, it's one of the very best sci-fi movies ever made. It's filled with wickedly biting satire, gut-busting humor, thrilling action, tremendous special effects (both boundary-pushing gory makeup appliances and Ray Harryhausen-inspired stop-motion), a million memorable lines, a driving score from Basil Poledouris, and a core of emotion that grounds it all, centered on an exemplary performance from Peter Weller, who has to sell his character's loss of, and rebirth into, humanity while laboring under an unwieldy (but totally awesome) costume. I'm forcing myself to stop here, because trust me, I could go on and on. Just know that there was a time when I could recite pretty much the entire screenplay along with the film. It's always a good time to rewatch RoboCop.

You gotta be quick with me! I'm from Erie, PA!

That Thing You Do!
This film, I am not going to defend as a cinematic great. But it's pure enjoyment for me, from beginning to end. Tom Hanks' theatrical directorial debut, about a '60s rock band's meteoric rise to the top, manages to convey in a very real and exhilarating way the thrill of sudden, unexpected success. I would put forward the scene in which the band first hears their song being played on the radio as one of the best representations of innocent, unadulterated joy ever filmed. It's a very sweet and funny film, with a terrific cast, in roles great and small: Liv Tyler, Charlize Theron, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry, Giovanni Ribisi, Alex Rocco, Kevin Pollak, Bill Cobbs, Chris Isaak, and of course Hanks himself. And then there's Tom Everett Scott in the lead; he's not quite become a household name, but his aw-shucks, romantic, enthusiastic, decent everyman (not unlike a young Tom Hanks) really sells the movie. Plus, there's that music -- mainly, that title song, written by Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger. If it weren't such a great song, one you can listen to over and over again, I wouldn't be able to watch the movie over and over again. But it is, and I do.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

The Princess Bride
There aren't a lot of obvious movies on my list -- by which I mean, movies a large number of other people would also count as their most rewatchable, such as Animal House, or This Is Spinal Tap, or The Breakfast Club, or (ugh) Titanic, or Star Wars, or... you get the point. But this is one of those obvious ones. Few movies are as quotable, or delightful, as this one is from beginning to end, and few movies, I think, are as deeply beloved across such a wide spectrum of people. I don't think I know anybody who doesn't love this movie, and off the top of my head, I don't know what other movie I could say that about.

Deserve's got nothin' to do with it.

This is maybe the only movie on this list I would classify as pure drama (as opposed to romance, or action movie, or whatever), even if it is a drama in the Western genre. I guess there aren't a lot of serious movies I feel the desire to watch again and again. But this Clint Eastwood masterpiece is one of the few. It's so deep and rich and rewarding; it's a better movie on each viewing. As I said recently, one of the elements in the film that has grown in fascination for me on later rewatchings is the power of the stories told within it: for example, when an important death happens offscreen, and the story of that death is told, its effect is shattering. Obviously, this is another entry on this list that I would defend as among the best ever produced.

Sorry don't get it done, Dude.

Rio Bravo
I can't shut up about this film this week! I watched it again yesterday. I'm going to wear out the DVD at this rate. One thing I noted about the commentary (which is really two commentaries spliced together): John Carpenter seems to love it unreservedly, for all the reasons I do, but critic Richard Schickel, who was a longtime friend of director Howard Hawks, seems to scoff at a number of elements in the film, most particularly the musical break featuring singing from Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson. Sure, it's unrealistic for lawmen under siege to break out the guitar and burst into song, but if you can't get pleasure out of that moment, I think you lack a certain capacity to appreciate and love movies as movies.

Dude, what the fuck is wrong with German people?

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
It slows down a bit at the end, but the opening 30 or 40 minutes or so -- everything from the opening song, "Mountain Town," through the show-stopping, Oscar-nominated "Blame Canada," at the very least -- are as brilliant and sharp and hilarious as any comedy ever made (if far more vulgar than most of them). And even the slower second half is packed with enough wit and humor for ten other comedies. There have been times when I've watched this movie every single night for two weeks straight. That movie has warped my fragile little mind!

I believe there's a hero in all of us.

Spider-Man 2
I think it's become official -- Spider-Man 2 has surpassed Superman to become my favorite superhero action movie of all time. In fact, it may be my favorite action movie of any kind (RoboCop transcends mere action, in case you were wondering). I mean, the action is spectacular, just jaw-droppingly exciting and inventive and immersive. But it starts with the characters. All the supporting players get great moments -- scene-stealing J. Jonah Jameson, realizing perhaps he was wrong about Spidey; Harry Osborn, devastated by his best friend's betrayal; Mageina Tovah's minuscule, but dearly affecting, appearance as Ursula, Peter's hopelessly timid and smitten neighbor; Uncle Ben, in the "Spider-Man no more" flashback; and Aunt May, whose speech about true heroes is, without question, the tear-jerking heart of the movie. Tobey Maguire (despite, as Dorian will be quick to point out to you, his limited variety of facial expressions) and Kirsten Dunst shine as Peter Parker and Mary Jane, and Alfred Molina's Dr. Octopus is one of the most menacing, and most believably human, supervillains ever put on film.

Jefe, would you say I have a plethora of pinatas?

¡Three Amigos!
Chevy Chase, despite his sorry later years, made a surprisingly large number of films that are eminently rewatchable: Foul Play, Caddyshack, Fletch, Vacation, Funny Farm.... But this may be my favorite. It doesn't hurt, of course, that Chase's co-stars are Steve Martin and Martin Short, and that they caught director John Landis while he still had two awesome comedies left in him (the second of which would be Coming To America), before his talent completely deserted him (see -- or rather, don't see -- Oscar, Beverly Hills Cop III, The Stupids, Blues Brothers 2000...). I can't pretend that ¡Three Amigos! is the greatest film ever, but its blend of slapstick, one-liners, visual gags, and bizarre, absurd digressions ("Oh, great! You killed the invisible swordsman!") just works for me.

We're in a tight spot!

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
As far as Coen brothers flicks go, Raising Arizona is also right up there for me; I really like The Big Lebowski, too, but I'm not a part of the ever-growing cult who worships it. (Yet.) But head and shoulders above them, I would say, is this riotous, gorgeous tribute to the films and music of the 1930s. George Clooney has only been better once (that would be Out of Sight). Coen veterans John Turturro, John Goodman, Charles Durning, and Holly Hunter knock their respective roles out of the park. It's hard to say what's more fun: to quote along with the movie ("We! Thought! You! Was! A toad!" "Do! Not! Seek! The treasure!!"), or to sing along with the movie ("I bid farewell to old Kentucky/The place where I was born and raised").

I stick my neck out for nobody.

Do I even have to explain this one? I said above that most of the movies I would consider among the very best ever made, I can't rewatch all that often. Well, this may well be the best film of all time, and I could watch it every day. Every line is a gem; every actor is at the very top of their game. If only one movie in history were allowed to exist, I would want it to be this one, and I would never get tired of it.

I'll stop here at ten. What about you? Which films can you watch over and over again? Let's hear about the great ones, and the not-so-great ones (mainly the not-so-great ones; they're more interesting!), that strike all the right notes for you.

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