In preparation for the ATFAs, I’ll need to watch many canonical films I’ve either never seen or haven’t seen in quite some time in order to encompass what is generally considered to be the cream of cinema–adding, of course, my idiosyncratic candidates.
The American Film Institute’s Top 100, while a long, long way from a definite list of the best of American cinema, is a pretty good resource for such a project, since it encompasses so much of the popular canon. I’m going to run through the list and give my viewing status and thoughts, when applicable, on each one. I’ll use the 10th anniversary version of the list, which was compiled in 2007, and after I’ve done the list I’ll cover the films which were removed from the list for the revision.
A legit deli classic–“Jewish champagne” it was dubbed, once upon a time–and since I just got my hands on a couple of cans, I thought the time was ripe for a review.
That is a celery soda may make it an anomaly, but in terms of quality, it is no mere gimmick.
Au Hasard, RoboCop. (Poster courtesy of Rob Pagenkopf.)
What hath District 9 wrought?
For those who’ve been charting Neill Blomkamp’s painful career trajectory, it’s tempting to say that Chappie makes Elysium look like District 9, but the seeds of Chappie‘s badness are evident in District 9. What were secondary issues there–thin characters, logical gaps–here all but overrun the film’s strengths. It’s hard to explain just how incredibly, consistently stupid Chappie is, but I’ll do my best.
There are good things to be found here. On a technical level, it’s just fine. And as absurd as it is, it’s sincere, in a rather pathetic way. But the script–from two Oscar-nominated screenwriters–is so full of stupid characters, stupid situations, and stupid resolutions, that it makes you wonder if Die Antwoord (making their film debut) didn’t get a raw deal.
And given their performances, that’s saying something.
Patriotism, machismo, tragedy.
I’ve decided to review these films side by side, not least because they complement each other so well thematically; both films tell true stories, of men who believe they are saving America, but do not realize it is themselves who need saving. One film openly displays the absurdity of its protagonists’ hubris, while the other treats it more ambiguously. Where Mark Schultz’ wrestling made not a dent in America’s destiny, Chris Kyle became the most prolific sniper in American history, serving in a controversial war and leaving a decidedly controversial legacy.
Both films are dark, unhappy portraits of the American psyche, but where Foxcatcher is a grueling and ultimately highly effective film, American Sniper is powerful in the details and frustratingly uneven as a whole. (Both films also feature Sienna Miller as the wife of a major character, though she has little to do in Foxcatcher but is basically a lead in Sniper.) Both films also racked a number of Oscar nominations–11 between them–and the nominations also complement each other well. So it is through those nominations that I will examine them.
I should add, I rewatched Sniper just before going back to rework this review. I hope to rewatch Foxcatcher eventually, but the controversy surrounding Sniper, and my own mixed feelings, led me to opt for a second viewing in order to provide the most objective review possible.
I’ve decided to change things up a bit here. For several years, I’ve been using a four-star system, with **** as the best and “Utter Shite” as the worst. It’s a good system, but it occurred to me that a change might be in order.
I’ve decided to switch to a five-star system, where the ratings will be distributed thus:
- *****: 90-100
- ****½: 85-89
- ****: 75-84
- ***½: 65-74
- ***: 55-64
- **½: 45-54
- **: 35-44
- *½: 25-34
- *: 15-24
- ½: 10-14
- Utter Shite: 0-9
The net effect of this is to make my highest and lowest rankings more exclusive. Which is not to belittle the films I scored 87 and 88, but is it unfair to say that a great but imperfect film like Snowpiercer is not necessarily in the same strata of greatness as, say, 2001? Is it wrong to say that the badness of Gigli is less absolute than the badness of Black Devil Doll from Hell?
And the new ****½ rating brings what were once low **** films and high ***½ films together into a happy family of excellence–but the kind of excellence that makes a year-end Top 10 rather than an all-time Top 10. 87s and 88s are relatively plentiful. 90+ films are rare. They are, to quote the cartoonist Bob Mankoff, the “crème de la crème of the crème de la crème”. Only the very greatest films qualify; in many years you could count them on one hand.
It’s not a perfect system–that Argo may now be considered a **** film (at least until I rerank it) is a bit hard to swallow. But that’s what you get when you institute a system like this. You have to take the bad with the good. And I’m entirely willing to do that.
I won’t retroactively change the ratings on my previously published reviews, but I will update the lists of yearly rankings to reflect the changes. The new ratings will first be applied to my reviews of Foxcatcher and American Sniper, coming later this morning.
If there’s a category for “Biggest Badass”…
Because I’m not ambitious enough already.
February, 2015 will go down in Gravy history as a moment of triumph. The statistics alone tell an impressive tale:
- The best month: 3,771 views; the previous best was November 2014, which saw 1,736 views.
- The best week: The week of Feb. 16-22 saw 1,765 views; this week alone would have made this our best-ever month.
- The best day: Feb. 15th, my father’s birthday, saw 644 views from 438 visitors. The previous best day was in November, shortly after I published my review of Interstellar; that day saw 173 views.
- The most-viewed post: The page where visitors could vote for my 4th Annual Film Awards, a page which is now defunct, saw 1,313 views this month–nearly three times more than any post to date. And The Voters Speak!, which displays the results, has seen 796 views to date, and I’m sure that number will only continue to grow.
Again I must thank Arnaud Trouvé (CineCharlie) and Brontis Jodorowsky for their considerable part in making this such a successful month. And again I thank my friend Maggie for impelling me to do the blog, and my father for nurturing my love of cinema in the first place (the music begins to play me off) and of course, all of you who came to visit. I hope you’ll be back.