Monday, June 25, 2012

The Essentials: Westerns (Part 2)

The Searchers (1956)

This movie isn’t just a classic western, it’s one of my selections for the top 10 greatest movies of all time.  The story is great, but try to notice the cinematography that is employed along the way. Watch for the way John Ford frames his shots, and the emotional intensity that it creates. A core component of all westerns is the sense of isolation that the main character typically feels and his unflinching, uncompromising adherence to his moral code (whatever that code may be). The final scene of the movie is one of my all-time favorites, and is the perfect picture of heroic isolationism. This movie touches on revenge and forgiveness, relentless pursuit, and the meaning of love, family and belonging, and is worth seeing again and again.

Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)

If Stagecoach created the archetype for the early Western in cinema, Once Upon A Time In The West turned those archtypes on their heads. Director Sergio Leone (the father of the “spaghetti western”) has created a masterpiece of depth, style, and pacing. He brilliantly cast Henry Fonda against type as the sadistic killer Frank, one of the first Westerns to have the lead actor portray the villain. Pay particular attention to the terrific musical score and Leone’s use of close-ups. Leone borrowed freely from High Noon, The Searchers, and Shane but still created a unique vision of the old west and helped change the tone of the Western for a new generation of movie-goers. 

Unforgiven (1992)

The film that single-handedly brought the Western back into cinematic prominence. Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, the movie is a brilliant treatise on the myth of the heroic gunslinger, the consequences of violence, and aging. The movie strips away any glamour present in the four earlier films on this list. This old west is a dirty, brutal place of moral ambiguity. Most characters are neither heroes nor villains and many continue to change in mind and soul as the movie progresses. The act of killing someone (and the consequences of that act) has rarely been treated with such thought and care in any previous Westerns. 

The Essentials: Westerns (Part 1)

Posted by Tony and Michael

Ok, I know that the Western genre seems an odd place to start, but it's the place that Tony and I agreed on quickly and rather easily, also it's a personal favorite of back-off!!!!!

Here are the movies that we feel are essential to any lover of cinema who wants to fully understand the genre of Western movies. Michael reviewed the first three movies, and Tony reviewed the last two.

Stagecoach (1939)
This movie is not only essential to all Westerns, it’s archetypal. Everything you’ve ever seen in a western got it’s start in this movie. John Wayne plays the classic rough around the edges outlaw with the deeper moral code that is bigger than the law. Claire Trevor plays the woman with the questionable history with the heart of gold. There are villains, cowards, and prejudiced people, and director John Ford ties it all together simply and superbly. Ford is hands down the greatest director of westerns of all time, and he is on the short list of the greatest directors of all time in any genre. It’s fitting that this movie came out in 1939, the single greatest year of movies in history. Stagecoach is a must watch for anyone wanting to understand and enjoy the Western genre.

High Noon (1953) 

Director: Fred Zinneman.  If The Searchers is the perfect example of heroic isolationism, the High Noon is the perfect example of a strict adherence to a moral code. The concept of right vs. wrong is played out beautifully by Zinneman as the duty bound retiring Sheriff (played by Gary Cooper) clashes with his young, brash, soon to be replacement (played by Lloyd Bridges). The theme is layered in several other places as well, including the juxtaposition of the Sheriff’s new bride, a Quaker, delicately dressed in white (played by Grace Kelly) versus the Sheriff’s old love interest who seems to have a checkered past, dressed most often in darker colors. There’s the forboding evil of Frank Miller and his gang arriving into to town on the noon train and the cowardice of the townfolk that the Sheriff has served for years. On top of all that the sequence is played out in real time, with frequent shots of clocks to remind you of the climax coming at high noon! 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Essentials

Posted by Michael

Tony and I love movies. Ok, to be honest we are probably a bit obsessive. Between the two of us we have seen a terrifying amount of movies, including a majority of the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all time. What we have come to realize is that there are way more quality movies out there than we will ever have the time to see. That got us thinking (always a dangerous idea) and we have decided to compile a list of “essentials”. We are working together to come up with 5 movies from every major movie genre that encapsulate the essence of that genre. If you could only see 5 movies in a genre, these would be the movies to see. After seeing the essentials you will have a firm grasp of that slice of movie history. Over the next few weeks we will roll them out genre by genre. So, if you are looking to broaden your cinematic experience this is the place to start. Also, we would love any feedback you have on movies that you think we snubbed and should absolutely be a part of an essentials list. (Anyone ever listing any movie from the Twilight series will be banned from feedback eternally)