100 Essential Films – March

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I’ve set a goal for 2018 to make my way through the movies represented on the Pop Chart Lab 100 Essential Films Scratch-Off Chart.  Learn what 100 movies they consider “essential,” follow my progress here in detail and listen to my reactions on Ka-Pow the Pop Cultured Podcast!

 

MARCH

Spring has just begun and I’ve already managed to fritter away the strong numbers I’d put up at the beginning of this year by only managing six films for the month of March.  I remain on pace, but just barely, especially since I’m a baseball fan and now there are games to watch nearly every night of the week.  However, I did upgrade my cable this month and now possess a DVR for the first time in my life, giving me access to those movies that play at odd times throughout the day.  In fact, recording things off of Turner Classic Movies and watching them later is how I caught most of the following films.  Ain’t technology great?  (Well… not according to two of the classic flicks I just completed!)

 

015

The Philadelphia Story

Year: 1940

Director: George Cukor

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: 1

Based on the Broadway play in which she also starred, this witty romantic comedy established Katharine Hepburn as a bona fide leading lady.  Even flanked by the dashing duo of Cary Grant and James Stewart, Hepburn’s whip-smart, fiercely independent socialite could verbally spar with any of the guys.  The commentary on our cultural obsession with the rich and beautiful remains relevant, but much of the humor is based on customs and manners that have gone by the wayside.  It’s even a genre I didn’t realize existed, the “comedy of remarriage,” depicting a couple who divorce, briefly flirt with others and then remarry in order to get around the Motion Picture Production Code banning extramarital affairs in the films of the 1930s and 40s.  Ignorant of this convention, I genuinely didn’t know who she would end up with by the end, which was refreshing for a romance of any era.

016

 

017

Easy Rider

Year: 1969

Director: Dennis Hopper

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: ~3

This counterculture classic biker movie is a time capsule that both eulogizes the untenable innocence of the 1960s hippie ethos and kicks off the gritty, no-compromises auteur filmmaking of the 1970s.  It’s simple and sparse, using improvised dialog, hand-held camerawork and frenetic editing techniques to juxtapose the scruffy, doped-up Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper with All-American iconography of rural Southern highways.  The film really picks up when they are joined by Jack Nicholson, someone from “square” society (with a more acceptable vice like alcoholism) and introduce him to life on the fringes.  We are left to wonder, as we still do today, what is so terrifying about people who choose to live differently from us?  The soundtrack is an excellent mix of classic rock tunes, as well as the first, best and only time Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” should have been used in a movie.

018

 

019

The Searchers

Year: 1956

Director: John Ford

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: ~5

What makes this one of my favorites is how atypical a Western it is.  It still has action and humor, cowboys and Indians and John Ford’s gorgeous widescreen Monument Valley landscapes.  But there’s also a melancholy to it.  A mythology-piercing cynicism about the West and its so-called heroes.  It stars John Wayne at his least likable, a bitter, racist old soldier who didn’t beat his sword down into ploughshares.  He can’t fit into civilized society, always needing an enemy to hate and a battle to fight.  When his niece is kidnapped by Comanches, her rescue is an excuse to pursue a years-long quest of punishing hardship and vengeance, Captain Ahab in dusty spurs.  There’s also a storytelling subtlety usually lacking in the genre, never explicitly stating what past misdeeds made his character this way and why he keeps his distance, an iconic silhouette forever outside the farmhouse door.

020

 

021

The Matrix

Year: 1999

Director: The Wachowskis

Method: Own DVD

Times Viewed: ~10

Even with the enormous impact it had on pop culture, the overly-complicated sequels that muddied the plotline waters and the franchise of merchandise it spawned, I still remember how completely blown away I was sitting in the theater the first time I saw this movie.  Combining notes and beats from dystopian sci-fi, kung-fu, cyberpunk, anime and world religions, it melded those familiar influences into something entirely new.  The sight of Carrie-Anne Moss leaping through the air on wires, Laurence Fishburne snapping on a pair of rimless sunglasses or Keanu Reeves acrobatically dodging all those bullets signaled a seismic shift in style and special effects at the dawn of a new millennium of filmmaking.  And with the ubiquity of digital devices arriving in the two decades since, the themes it presents of human connection in an increasingly virtual world only get more relevant.

022

 

023

On the Waterfront

Year: 1954

Director: Elia Kazan

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: ~3

This story about corrupt Union bosses and the lower class longshoreman they exploit is a perfect vehicle to showcase Marlon Brando’s revolutionary level of big screen charisma.  As a former promising prizefighter reduced to working the docks, a bum misguided through life by his crooked older brother, Brando exudes down-on-his-luck charm and blue collar honor.  Eva Marie Saint is the perfect girl next door in her film debut, her fragile beauty and uncompromising virtue playing splendidly against the corrupted brute she’s growing to love.  Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger get some good villainous moments as their empire is threatened from within, but everyman MVP of the era Karl Malden really shines as the crusading priest attempting to get the mob’s boot off of his parishioner’s necks.  He gets all the best speeches, even if Brando’s “I coulda been a contender” is (rightfully) the most iconic.

024

 

025

2001: A Space Odyssey

Year: 1968

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Method: TCM

Times Viewed: 2

I get it.  I understand Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking sci-fi film about the evolution of mankind from grunting apes warring over a watering hole to stoic scientists exploring the vastness of the cosmos is a visual masterpiece.  It’s just not a movie I really enjoy.  It’s thought provoking, endlessly inventive and never not interesting to look at.  The workaday banality of the interplanetary travel depicted lends an air of realism few others in the genre could match.  But the Jupiter mission and the introduction of supercomputer antagonist HAL 9000 doesn’t begin until an hour in and wraps up at the two hour mark, leaving more than an hour and a half of cosmic claptrap to bookend what I consider the essential conflict of the piece with quote-unquote “deeper meaning.”  But much like the monolith itself, we are free to project whatever we want upon this fifty-year-old film’s inscrutable face.

026

 

Progress:  27 / 100

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