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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Catching Up On Your Movies

Like most of you, I have seen jillions of movies. During different phases of my life, I focused my interest on particular movies: foreign, indy, documentaries, particular directors, etc. During a huge chunk of the '80s I was an art house junkie - it's German cinema week at the Old Vic! Thus, I eschewed mainstream movies like say, TOP GUN. It was just so bourgeois! Some movies, like say AMADEUS, I skipped because they were so ubiquitous and popular - and therefore far, far beneath my snobby little self. How silly, right?

Well, now I am making things right. I have a little notebook that I carry with me everywhere I go and every time I hear about a movie I should see - whether it dates back to my snobby days, or whether it's just something that for whatever set of reasons I missed, it goes on the list. And I'm having a lot of fun working my way through it. Some of the movies on my list I am frankly horrified and embarrassed that I didn't watch. Just so embarrassed. AMADEUS? Being that I am a screenwriter and own a business that advises other screenwriters...? That's just lame. So it's on the list.

My personal list also includes movies that I am not in the least bit embarrassed that I missed - I just missed the movie and I'd like to see it. Some of those movies are: 21 GRAMS, THE ROAD TO PERDITION, MATCHSTICK MEN, GANGS OF NEW YORK, etc.

Have you ever talked to a fellow screenwriter and they mention a movie they never saw and your eyes widen in absolute horror - NO. WAY! A friend told me the other day he'd never seen CHINATOWN and that was my reaction. Are you kidding? And you write scripts? Of course, then that person said but wait - you never saw GOONIES and a lively argument ensued as to the relative merits of a cute but forgettable '80s movie that has no must-see merits when it comes to screenwriters. You can see my prejudices all over the place on that one, right?

For a movie to make my personal list, it has to have three qualities: It will enrich my personal life because it's a beloved movie, it will enrich my professional understanding of film or I'm just plain curious about it. So one example from each category: THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE (documentary about Robert Evans, how did I miss this? Personal enrichment.). TOP GUN (I know why I missed it, I am not embarrassed, but it is oft referred to in screenwriting circles. Professional enrichment.). GALLIPOLI (directed by Peter Weir, with Mel Gibson, supposed to be really great. Curiosity factor.).

A friend and I were discussing this very topic yesterday evening and we made a list of movies that screenwriters really should be embarrassed if they have not seen. Now, of course this list is subjective and I have not seen every single one of these movies (we'll count up the exact number) but here's the scenario: You walk into a screenwriting writers' group and you are asked if you've seen one of these movies and you haven't - and you turn beet red. Because the movies on this list are accessible and available. Because they are often discussed. Because they feature unforgettable, iconic performances or were in some way seminal, instructive or innovative. Because they are part of the history and trajectory of film (say noir or screwball).

I could blanch that someone has not seen, say, HAROLD AND MAUDE, but it doesn't make this list because it's a cult movie and because while it is amazing and excellent and one of my top movies, it isn't an embarrassing hole in your movie viewing history. I would just say wow you should go see it. Or another example: SILKWOOD. I love it, it's great, but I wouldn't look askance if you hadn't seen it.

So here is the list we came up with, that if you walked into a screenwriting group and hadn't seen this movie, you would be stared daggers at and you should indeed feel a little embarrassed:

AMADEUS*
CASABLANCA
KARATE KID*
BLUE VELVET
CHINATOWN
CITIZEN KANE
STAR WARS
ET
INDIANA JONES
CHARLIE CHAPLIN (any or all)
FATAL ATTRACTION
SUNSET BOULEVARD
PSYCHO
REAR WINDOW
MALTESE FALCON
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS
WALL STREET
SCARFACE
THE GODFATHER
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY
ANNIE HALL
SCHINDLER'S LIST*
THE WIZARD OF OZ
ROCKY
THE SIXTH SENSE
THE MATRIX
DIE HARD
THE PRINCESS BRIDE
HIGH NOON
TAXI DRIVER
THE BREAKFAST CLUB
TOOTSIE
RISKY BUSINESS
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
BRINGING UP BABY
DOUBLE INDEMNITY
CHARIOTS OF FIRE*
MOONSTRUCK
FARGO
MEMENTO
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
JAWS
THE EXORCIST
GOODFELLAS*
THE SHINING
BIG
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
ALIEN
ANIMAL HOUSE*
ON THE WATERFRONT
NETWORK
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
APOCALYPSE NOW
DELIVERANCE
PRETTY WOMAN
ARTHUR
BACK TO THE FUTURE
GONE WITH THE WIND
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN
TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE
ROSEMARY'S BABY
PATTON
THE GRADUATE
RAGING BULL
FORREST GUMP
SOME LIKE IT HOT
TOY STORY
THELMA AND LOUISE
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE*
FINDING NEMO
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST
AMERICAN BEAUTY
THE PLAYER
ALL ABOUT EVE
TERMS OF ENDEARMENT
ADAM'S RIB
REBECCA
MILDRED PIERCE
HARVEY
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
GLADIATOR

Okay there are seven movies on this list that I have not seen and they are all on my Hall of Shame List: AMADEUS, KARATE KID, GOODFELLAS, SCHINDLER'S LIST, ANIMAL HOUSE, CHARIOTS OF FIRE, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. And here's why I didn't see them: 1) Ubiquity/snobbyness. 2. Same. 3. Aversion to mob violence in movies 4. Tried but it upset me very much. 5. I was too young and frat life had no relevance in my life. 6. Ubiquitous soundtrack annoyed me out of it. 7) I have seen clips and it looks really upsetting. Don't worry. I'll man up.

So what would you add to this list? Remember the criteria for being on this list:

It's easily accessible: it can be found at any video store.

It is reasonable that a person younger than 40 would, could or should have seen this. This is an important criterion to remember. Should GRAND HOTEL or GILDA be on this list? Yeah, maybe. But for most younger screenwriters today who aren't enrolled in a film studies program, movies like that are reaching back into the dust bin a little bit.

It is frequently discussed in screenwriting circles. Not cinephile, snobby circles (you know who you are, person about to jot down LA DOLCE VITA). Regular circles.

It has a seminal or iconic performance (You talkin' to me?) .

The embarrassment barometer: If you haven't seen it, you often pretend you have. (Aren't you proud of me, Wavers, for being totally honest about my missing movies?)

It is not a cult movie, it is fairly mainstream (So hesitate before you list anything, Lynch-lovers. I threw BLUE VELVET on the list, because I do think it was stylistically innovative but...).

It is part of the history and trajectory of film; it fills in the holes of your film history.

It is instructive for screenwriters: It has amazing dialogue or crazy structure, it broke with convention in some way. It innovated storytelling (THE MATRIX).

Okay, ready, set...what are your hall of shame movies? How many movies on this starter list have you not seen? Paying careful attention to the list of criteria and setting your snobbi-tude aside, which movies are missing? Are you sure you aren't listing REVENGE OF THE NERDS because it lit you up when you were 12? Does it really fit the criteria?

****
Added because I've already gotten a couple of outraged - how could you forget THIS? This is a starter list. That is the point. Look over the criteria and make suggestions. What is missing that fits the criteria?

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31 comments:

Olive said...

Arclight Sherman Oaks is showing Amadeus on March 31!

http://tinyurl.com/cfjodv

They're actually a great source for several on your list (sorry, non-LA peeps) - Alien, 2001, Psycho, Rear Window....

Julie Gray said...

Wow, how fun, Olive! I'll definitely see it there! Thank you!

Joe Public said...

How did you leave Pulp Fiction out of this?

And for learning purposes, Saving Private Ryan. Iconic performance...no, but, when I saw this film in the theater, the thirteen years old kids(I'm guessing there but pretty close) to guys that were probably a few weeks from being dead, sat motionless, and speechless...I mean not one person got up to leave for a good five minutes.

One of my favorites.

Joe Public said...

By the way, a funny B movie that you probably can't find...Morons From Outer Space.

Like the story says, they're idiot aliens-- in people form who-- who live the Beatles story. There's even a fifth alien.

Not great production quality, but a fun little romp.

Dave Shepherd said...

Really Julie?

No Pulp Fiction? Resevoir Dogs?

Maybe not Resevoir Dogs, but I figured Pulp Fiction would be a shoe-in.

Julie Gray said...

That's the point, Joe, this is a starter list. If you nominate Pulp Fiction, that's a good call!

Morons from Outer Space does not fit the criteria :)

Mark Rovner said...

In no particular order:
Jerry Maguire (show me the money and you had me at hello); Sideways; Lost in Translation; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Henry V; Glory; It’s a Mad Mad Mad World; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; Blazing Saddles

A Who said...

I am not sure if these are readily available for rent, but a few I'd add: 400 Blows, Rocky (I can't help it), Shawshank Redemption, Dancer in the Dark, Cool Hand Luke and Down By Law.

PJ McIlvaine said...

I would add CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, ALIENS, THE PIANO, MICHAEL CLAYTON, THE PLANET OF THE APES (NOT THE REMAKE), THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (really, the whole trilogy), THE TIME MACHINE (the original)...God, I could go on and on.

Trina0623 said...

There should be no shame in nominating "Rocky" -- seminal performance and American icon. Plus it won Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture, besides being the top grossing movie of 1976.

Julie, I know you have a couple of other Billy Wilder films on the list, but what about "The Apartment." It's the only one of his films to have won the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. And the subject matter pushed the envelope in 1960.

Julie Gray said...

Rocky is already on the starter list and it has a rightful place, no doubt about it!

The Apartment - great addition!

Tavis Sarmento said...

Two major classics I didn't see on the list:

Bonnie and Clyde
Easy Rider

Tony Solorzano said...

I have a few of them that are not only mainstream but also ones I consider part of the trajectory of film.

Duck Soup- The Absolutely best of the Marx Brothers' five films with Paramount, the satirical skewering of geopolitics and war is still relevant even today. Plus Groucho's costume changes was mimicked by Woody Allen.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World- Already Mentioned but still deserves to be included. Best seen in the "Roadshow" edition, which includes the intermission with the radio traffic. Saw this at Arclight, blown away by it.


Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs- I included these three specific Mel Brooks movies because they were all so outrageously funny in their send up of the genres they portrayed. I mean come on, who else would use Count Basie's music in a Western and THEN put him in AS HIMSELF. Genius. Plus, the greatest comedic line in all of movie history is featured in YF.

"Igor, can you help me with the bags?"
"Certainly, you take the blonde and I'll the take the one in the turban..."

I'm going to add one that might fall into the cult category, but I saw it in the theaters and I consider it a movie worth seeing.

The Big Easy- Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin's scenes together are as hot- if not hotter- than the scenes in Body Heat between William Hurt and Kathleen Turner. Plus this movie's biggest star is a pre=Katrina New Orleans. That alone makes it necessary.

MovieGuy76 said...

Julie,

Great list. There are about seven titles on that list I have yet to watch. Running a movie theatre for 15 years has allowed me the opportunity to watch a bunch of films. Trying to come up with a list is proving to be a tad difficult, but if there's one title I'm a little embarrased for not viewing it's KRAMER vs. KRAMER. I've added it to my Netflix queue. I'll be adding more in the next few days.

Joe Public said...

@ P.J.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Absolutely!

M.A.S.H anyone?

Seth said...

I second (or third, or whatever) Pulp Fiction, Duck Soup, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Also, even though you already have two Hitchcock films, I'd add Vertigo. And I know you already have Bringing Up Baby, but Howard Hawks always either wrote or demanded great scripts: Rio Bravo, The Big Sleep (pretty much the model for The Big Lebowski), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and His Girl Friday would probably make my list.

E.C. Henry said...

"Gladiator" should NOT be on that list.

I would add "Saving Private Ryan," "The Patriot," "Halloween" (late 70s), "Night of the Living Dead" (late 60s), and "Romancing the Stone."

And of cource I'm with the beautiful and talented PJ McIlvane, when it comes to putting "Planet of the Apes" (1968) on that list. It really desirves it too, as it was one Hollywood's first modern big budget sci-fi's that spawed four more movies -- and a short lived TV series in the late 70s.

Likewise look at what "Holloween" did. It spawed "Friday the 13th," the Nightmare Elm Street" stuff. And that's what classic's do: the enspire future oferings in their genre.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Julie Gray said...

@EC - what is your reasoning for Gladiator not making the essential screenwriter viewing list?

@Seth - so you would literally widen your eyes in HORROR if an aspiring screenwriter had not seen Vertigo? I disagree. Rear Window. Psycho. If you only saw two Hitch movies in your LIFE those would be the two most horrifying not to have seen. Maybe I'd add North by Northwest. Hey, what about Mad Max, should that be on the list?

@PJ - Good, Bad Ugly - literally, you would CRINGE if someone hadn't seen that? Not me. Dated. Semi-innovative. But this is fun; it's all so subjective, isn't it?

Dave Shepherd said...

I'd add Adaptation.

I think that should be required viewing for any screenwriter for a myriad of reasons.

PJ McIlvaine said...

Julie, I say yes, because it took the western genre and turned it on its ear.

I can't believe I left out NORTH BY NORTHWEST, IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Ayck!

EC, you are way too kind. :)

I don't agree with some on the list:

WALL STREET, FINDING NEMO, eh.

I love GLADIATOR, but I wouldn't cringe if someone hadn't seen it.

Now, for beautiful plotting/structure, I would add JEAN DE FLORETTE and MANON OF THE SPRING. Just gorgeous. And Gerard never looked so handsome.

Dave Shepherd said...

You guys don't agree with Finding Nemo? It's one of the best movies on the list -- critically and commercially. If anything I'd be adding Wall-E to the list... can't be easy to write an entire script where the leads are limited to four or five words -- and still do it well -- and still make bundles of money.

If anything I'd take off Forrest Gump. Good, but not great.

jimdempsey said...

Ah! I've never seen E.T.

A weekend - and more - of watching videos for me, I think.

Steve Axelrod said...

Here's a sobering thought: my girlfriend was directing a local theatre production, which starred a brilliant young actress, drama school graduate, the works. And she had never heard of Cary Grant. Not ...somehow missed Bringing Up Baby, or forgot he was in Charade. NEVER. HEARD. OF. CARY. GRANT.

Blank look when she heard the name.I was stunned. How is that possible?

And how widespread can that ignorance be?
I hate to think about it ...

Olive said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Papageiena said...

'Amadeus' is my favorite movie, and this is from a noisy bitch who thoroughly enjoyed 'Transformers' and 'Iron Man'. It should be required viewing for every artist. Salieri's frustration with being a mediocre talent makes him one of the best characters in movies. I've seen most of the movies on your list, but only because I made a point of seeing 100 last year I hadn't seen before. <.< So I am just as guilty. Great post!

martinb said...

Some additions:

Docudrama: APOLLO 13, UNITED 93.

Biopics: KINSEY, WALK THE LINE, RAY, GANDHI, PATTON.

Sci-fi: INDEPENDENCE DAY, TERMINATOR, TERMINATOR 2, MEN IN BLACK, MEN IN BLACK 2

Drama: LEAVING LAS VEGAS, SEVEN, THE DEER HUNTER.

Rom-com: BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY, MUSIC AND LYRICS, NOTTING HILL (guess who's a Hugh Grant fan), AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN.

Caper: THE STING.

Action: LETHAL WEAPON, 48 HOURS, RUSH HOUR (or any Jackie Chan movie).

Musical: THE SOUND OF MUSIC, MY FAIR LADY.

Olive said...

Kinsey? You'd gasp if a screenwriter hadn't seen Kinsey?

PJ McIlvaine said...

Re KINSEY, I'd gasp if he had!

Julie Gray said...

@martinb - this is a really, really great list. Several of the titles don't fall under the GASP category but nonetheless, this is good stuff :)

Rachel said...

I'd nominate "Clerks" -- if for no other reason than it proved a film could be financed with credit cards :-)

martinb said...

This reply is a bit late, but still...

"Kinsey? You'd gasp if a screenwriter hadn't seen Kinsey?"

I think the list should contain examples from every genre, and there were no biopics.

So the question becomes: what biopics would you nominate as being must-sees?

And I'd nominate "Kinsey" because a) I think it's an excellent movie; and b) it's a difficult subject that was well handled.

Ask yourself: If someone came to you and asked you to write a screenplay for "Kinsey," how would you tackle it? The man and his work were controversial, shocking, and intimate, even today. It's a very difficult assignment.

I think they pulled it off magnificently. They conveyed the timbre of the times, the eye-popping nature of his work, and the blend of scandal, domesticity and stress that was his private life.

I'd have to give the movie 10/10, because I see no way of doing it better.