Also, January's print edition of Reason is now online, so those of you who don't subscribe to the mag can now read my brief squib on A Force More Powerful, a video game that simulates nonviolent revolution.
Finally: CounterPunch ran another one of my music lists this past weekend.
1. East of Eden Directed by Elia Kazan Written by Paul Osborn, from a novel by John Steinbeck
The best movie James Dean ever made. Kazan's best picture, too.
2. Diabolique Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot Written by Clouzot, Jerome Geronimi, Frederic Grendel, and Rene Masson, from a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
The Hitchcockian thriller that inspired Columbo and, less happily, a terrible remake with Sharon Stone.
3. The Trouble with Harry Directed by Alfred Hitchcock Written by John Michael Hayes, from a novel by Jack Trevor Story
The most underrated movie in Hitchcock's canon. It's also the most appealing portrait of rural life I've ever seen, which surely says more about me than it says about the picture.
4. Smiles of a Summer Night Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman
At first glance the phrase "life-affirming Bergman comedy" looks about as plausible as "Pauly Shore's four-hour Shakespearean drama." But that -- the Bergman comedy, not the Shore epic -- is exactly what this is.
5. The Night of the Hunter Directed by Charles Laughton Written by James Agee, from a novel by Davis Grubb
"Ah, little lad, you're staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand?"
6. Pather Panchali Directed by Satyajit Ray Written by Ray and Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, from a novel by Bandyopadhyay
I saw this one in a film class when I was 18. N.B.: I think I was the only one who liked it.
7. One Froggy Evening Directed by Chuck Jones Written by Michael Maltese
This feels like folklore, doesn't it? The legend of the singing frog?
8. Night and Fog Directed by Alain Resnais Written by Jean Cayrol
There's such a glut of Holocaust movies out there, and so many of them are essentially trite, that it's a relief to watch a documentary that really engages what happened and what it means to remember it.
9. The Man from Laramie Directed by Anthony Mann Written by Philip Yordan and Frank Burt, from a story by Thomas T. Flynn
Lear in the old west.
10. Ordet Directed by Carl Dreyer Written by Kaj Munk
A rarity: a religious movie that emerges from deep faith, not greeting-card sentimentality.
WE GET THE FUNK: A while back I quoted Joe Henry and David Cantwell's noble attempt to define the blues impulse, the gospel impulse, and the soul impulse, and I asked my readers what the funk impulse might be. Immediately after I posted that, I realized that the correct answer would have to be some version of George Clinton's free your mind and your ass will follow. So the prize goes to Eric Dixon of Shrubbloggers, who came closest with this: "Instead of looking within, or to a higher power, or to the person next to you, you look to the ass of the person next to you and realize how much better it might look if it were a-shakin'."
1. Repulsion Directed by Roman Polanski Written by Polanski, Gerard Brach, and David Stone
The most claustrophobic and horrific of Polanki's claustrophobic horror movies.
2. The Saragossa Manuscript Directed by Wojciech Has Written by Tadeusz Kwiatkowski, from a novel by Jan Potocki
A story within a story within a story within a...
3. The Battle of Algiers Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo Written by Pontecorvo and Franco Solinas
Torturers battle terrorists in colonial Algeria. In the '60s, would-be Guevaras watched this to teach themselves revolution; nearly four decades later, the Pentagon screened it for tips on fighting terror. Whatever else they found in it, both groups got to see one hell of a movie -- a film so utterly unflinching in its amorality that it feels more like a dispassionate documentary than a propaganda picture.
4. The Loved One Directed by Tony Richardson Written by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood, from a novel by Evelyn Waugh
The Duck Soup of pet cemetery movies.
5. A Game with Stones Written and directed by Jan Svankmajer
Many surrealists have directed abstract films without narratives, but only Svankmajer made movies as rich and engaging as the paintings of Dali, Ernst, and Magritte. The stones in this film arrange themselves into simple shapes, into more intricate patterns, and eventually into human beings who swallow each other. Sorry if that description sounds a little abstruse: It isn't easy to describe the plot of a Dali poster either.
6. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold Directed by Martin Ritt Written by Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper, from a novel by John Le Carre
A spy movie that plays like a film noir. In Le Carre's bleak story, the intelligence agencies of the Cold War aren't entirely separate -- they're more like competing forces within one vast corrupting system.
7. Simon of the Desert Directed by Luis Bunuel Written by Bunuel and Julio Alejandro
A meditating monk faces off with the devil. This being Bunuel, there's no reason to assume the devil will lose.
8. Chimes at Midnight Directed by Orson Welles Written by Welles, from plays by William Shakespeare
Falstaff was always more interesting than Henry. Now he gets to take center stage.
9. Looking for Mushrooms Directed by Bruce Conner
There's actually four versions of this psychedelic travelogue: a silent 8mm loop first shown in 1965; a 16mm version set to the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," first screened in 1967; a slowed-down 1996 version -- my favorite of the lot -- set to Terry Riley's "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band"; and, in 2001, an interactive installation that lets you move the film at your own speed. The only one of those I haven't seen is the 1965 edition, but by the arbitrary rules I've set for these lists, this is a 1965 movie. Go figure.
10. Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte Directed by Robert Aldrich Written by Henry Farrell and Lukas Heller, from Farrell's novel
Frequently written off as a retread of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, this over-the-top gothic soap opera is a fine film in its own right.
And speaking of arbitrary rules: In theory, I'm assigning these movies to the year in which they were first screened, not the year they went into general American release. But when I realized I had left The Secret of Roan Inish out of my 1994 list last year and Swept Away... out of 1974's top ten, I bent the law to include them this time around. Also, I've secretly authorized a warrantless wiretap on your phone. Sorry about that.
Cantwell: In his book A Change Is Gonna Come: Race, Music And The Soul Of America, Craig Werner builds on [Ralph] Ellison's idea to describe what he terms the gospel impulse. The gospel impulse starts at the same place as the blues -- it still faces and expresses the pain and limitations of the world -- but it also believes that in finding something larger than ourselves, human beings can, working together, change the world.
Henry: I think those guys are on to something there!...[T]he gospel impulse is driven by the same kind of earthly passion, but you're looking outside yourself instead of only looking inward. And maybe soul music on its own comes from the same [gospel] impulse but, instead of looking within or to a higher power, you look to that person next to you, to love.
A question for my readers: How do you define the funk impulse? The best answer will be published on this here blog, where the other four of you can read it.
1. Nashville Directed by Robert Altman Written by Joan Tewkesbury
Some of my friends dismiss this one as a smug left-coaster giving a raspberry to flyover country. To them I point out that the least sympathetic characters in the whole vast cast are the rocker from LA and the reporter from the UK. Altman's withering satire is nothing if not universal.
2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Directed by Milos Forman Written by Bo Goldman and Lawrence Hauben, from a novel by Ken Kesey
Perhaps it wasn't obvious at the time, but this scathing attack on the nanny state suggests an invisible fissure in the counterculture. I imagine some young hipster watching All in the Family one night in 1975 and then heading out for a late screening of this movie, never dreaming that his hero Rob Reiner would turn out to have more in common with Nurse Ratched than with McMurphy.
3. Love and Death Written and directed by Woody Allen
His funniest film, and his most pointedly political picture too.
4. Dog Day Afternoon Directed by Sidney Lumet Written by Frank Pierson
Best bank-robbery movie ever. "Sal, Wyoming's not a country."
5. Picnic at Hanging Rock Directed by Peter Weir Written by Cliff Green, from a novel by Joan Lindsay
If you want to understand the mass media's fixation on disappearing white girls, start here.
6. Swept Away...by an unusual destiny in the blue sea of August Written and directed by Lina Wertmuller
A comedy about the complexities of love, lust, and power, and the difficulties in discerning who wields the latter when the first two forces are in play. I'm reminded of a line from the Firesign Theatre: "It's a new world now, honey! Nobody's gwine have to be a slave all de time no mo'. We's gwine take turns."
7. Fox and His Friends Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder Written by Fassbinder and Christian Hohoff
Fassbinder was a trailblazing gay director, a man who somehow managed to fuse the aesthetics of Douglas Sirk and John Cassavetes, and, like Wertmuller, a radical with no patience for political correctness. I'll steal a passage from Roger Ebert: "Years before Hollywood made its first faltering steps in the direction of a new frankness about homosexuality, Fassbinder was miles out in front. He was so comfortable with gay characters that he felt no hesitation in portraying some of them as selfish, brutal and grasping -- as evil, indeed, as heterosexuals in other movies. Here is a movie about characters who define themselves by their sexuality, but the movie doesn't. It takes the sexuality as a given, and defines them by their values and morals."
8. Jaws Directed by Steven Spielberg Written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, from Benchley's novel
There's a small handful of Spielberg movies that I like, but if all his pictures were to disappear from the earth tomorrow this is the only one I'd miss.
9. Grey Gardens Directed by Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde, and Muffie Meyer
The best documentaries are about people, not events. This one captures two aging eccentrics whose relationship can never be entirely explained, just observed.
10. The Man Who Would Be King Directed by John Huston Written by Huston and Gladys Hill, from a story by Rudyard Kipling
1. Ran Directed by Akira Kurosawa Written by Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, and Masato Ide
The story of King Lear predates the Bard, so it shouldn't seem odd that the best movie it inspired doesn't include a single line of Shakespeare.
2. Brazil Directed by Terry Gilliam Written by Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown
They could have called it Monty Python's 1984.
3. Louie Bluie Directed by Terry Zwigoff
Zwigoff's first film is a charming documentary about the bluesman, artist, and porn aficionado Howard Armstrong. It's also utterly fake: The living room it's filmed in is an artificial set, some of the people reminiscing with Armstrong barely know him, and the director had to persuade his subjects to play the early string-band songs he loved rather than the more complex music they preferred. You can decide for yourself whether all that artifice is a flaw or an enhancement.
4. Vagabond Written and directed by Agnes Varda
Not a simple celebration of a free spirit, and not a disdainful condemnation of a marginal life either. Like a hobo Citizen Kane, it circles its title character but never touches her directly; instead it views her through other people's eyes, and never claims to have solved all the riddles she poses.
5. After Hours Directed by Martin Scorsese Written by Joseph Minion
Better critics can weigh this picture's place in Scorsese's filmography. I'll just point out that it's the best movie Cheech and Chong were ever involved with.
6. Static Directed by Mark Romanek Written by Romanek and Keith Gordon
Before he was shooting videos for Bowie, Beck, and Johnny Cash, Romanek made this terrific indie flick about a man who believes he's built a machine that'll let you peek into heaven. Why doesn't this have a bigger cult following?
7. Prizzi's Honor Directed by John Huston Written by Richard Condon and Janet Roach, from Condon's novel
The godfather of mafia comedies.
8. Fluke Directed by Emily Breer
An animated collage.
9. Chain Letters Written and directed by Mark Rappaport
In most conspiracy movies, the plot -- funny word, that -- reveals a hidden order lurking behind our seemingly chaotic world. This one's about the order we invent to make sense of the world's genuine chaos.
10. The Purple Rose of Cairo Written and directed by Woody Allen
A different sort of cinephilia: Mia Farrow's character falls in love with a movie character, and vice versa. Those of you who prefer Allen's onscreen persona to his offscreen life will appreciate the ending.
Also, a few articles previously published in the print edition of Reason are now online as well: my review of America's Right Turn and The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, an extended version of my Web column on Katrina, and a brief bit about creationist roadside attractions.
Finally: This past weekend CounterPunch posted an annotated list of some of my favorite live recordings.