My Movie List – Ed Champion
Ed Champion formerly wrote at Ed Champion’s Return of the Reluctant, one of the best lit blogs I ever found. He’s since quit all of that, instead focusing on something called “real life” and writing at the old site with a new name: Edward Champion’s Filthy Habits.
The Top Five Great Films That People Seem to Forget About
1. O Lucky Man!
Recently issued on DVD (finally!), Lindsay Anderson’s masterpiece is a stirring Candide-like depiction of a coffee salesman played by Malcolm McDowell at the mercy of societal afflictions. He is opportunistic, dissolute, and exploited. He tries to reform, but can’t. The only way he can find a way to integrate into society is through a smile. Depending upon your point of view, this may or may not be a good thing. But this film is a pleasant and wildly entertaining Rorschach test that I try to watch every year or two and that deserves far more attention than it has received.
This bleak and emotional offering from Mike Leigh features an intense and hyper-intelligent performance from David Thewlis. You find yourself asking: Who is this asshole? And why is he so interesting? Why is he so resistant to the kindnesses of other people who take him in? Would he continue to stubbornly rebel against society no matter what? Or is Leigh suggesting, much like Anderson, that society is the greatest threat to the individual? You might be seeing a trend in my choices here. The British post-kitchen sink filmmakers (although Leigh probably would hate to be identified as such) seem to be greatly concerned with the damaging form of social constructs in a way that I wish American filmmakers would likewise take on. (Neil LaBute perhaps comes closest, but even his fiery vision has been abdicated for dreck like The Wicker Man.) Until some daring American iconoclast comes along who ISN’T David Lynch, we have this amazing film and Leigh’s oeuvre as a whole.
3. After Hours
When people ask me what Scorsese film encapsulates who he is as a filmmaker, I look to this bravura cinematic performance, which is aided by the improbable combination of Michael Ballhaus’s incredible cinematography and Griffin Dunne’s performance as a yuppie milquetoast. It’s also an intriguing historical document of a mid-1980s New York that has sadly disappeared. I moved to New York last year hoping to find the crazed dregs depicted in this movie, but I’ve been largely disappointed. The “New York as hell” metaphor is here, but played far more comically than in any other Scorsese film. And you’ll never see the line “Surrender Dorothy” in quite the same context again.
4. Thieves’ Highway
Jules Dassin was, to my mind, the only one of the Hollywood Ten who mattered. And this film is an engaging working-class take on noir that is quite unlike any other picture of its type. Depicting the infrequently seen niche of brave truckers who delivered produce in rackety rigs throughout California, the film centers on Richard Conte — a war veteran trying to find dignity while suffering at the hands of solipsistic capitalists. But if politics ain’t your thing, well, this is one hell of a revenge flick. One can’t always settle down in life, but Conte does his damnedest to and finds that life choices and the amoral vagaries of others force out ontological shades he hadn’t expected. This film couldn’t be made today, but thankfully Criterion has seen fit to release it on DVD.
Before settling into a minor art house complacency with Amelie, French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet (together with his then partner Marc Caro) was a bawdy and brazen filmmaker. This wonderful dystopic comedy has some of the most crazed visuals I’ve ever seen — crazy yellows, greens, and browns reflecting an environment now devoted to a landlord using his tenants for meals. And while Caro and Jeunet had CGI on their side with their other great movie, City of Lost Children, Delicatessen takes more chances, with a crazed plaster-falling finale that recalls the final showdown in Dead Alive (Peter Jackson — another filmmaker who has grown complacent!). There’s even a sweet love story and a wonderful montage that juxtaposes sex and maintenance (later recycled in somewhat diluted form for a scene in Amelie).