Up!

We saw Up! on Friday.

It’s a lovely film; funny, endearing, moving, and sweet. What stood out for me, aside from all the tears (I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much during an animated movie) was the audacity of the filmmakers.

Although Up! was developed before Disney bought Pixar, the distribution deal was in place and Pixar knew that Up!, like the rest of its movies, would be marketed as a children’s movie and would be sold by Disney as lighthearted Summer fare. Knowing that,  Pixar set about telling the story of an aging retiree dulled by despair and longing.

Yes, there’s adventure and funny birds and talking dogs and jokes and antics aplenty,but at it’s core, Up! is a movie about an old man coming to terms with grief, loss and the shadows of deferred dreams and unfulfilled promises. That it can be all that and still deliver all the laughs and chuckles that the target ten-year old audience expects is, well… it’s incredible.

As in Wall-E, the first twenty minutes are largely silent and serve to anchor the arc of the film in an emotional context. And like Wall-E, the major themes are loneliness, companionship, courage, and love. I liked Wall-E quite a lot, but as with most animation, the emotional core of Wall-E, lovely though it is, is thin and brittle.

Good cartoons succeed by humanizing their characters as much as possible; the movie succeeds to the extent that the audience can identify with Wall-E”s loneliness, Shrek’s alienation, Eric Cartman’s self-absorption, Ariel’s conflict, or Homer’s obliviousness.  But cartoons are… cartoonish. Their subjects are characters painted in sharp relief with hard lines and little nuance: they are abstractions drawn to serve narrow purposes. Characters in even the best cartoons have very little depth. That’s OK, because that’s generally the point. The abstraction of a cartoon allows the creators to isolate elements of human nature present a highly stylized and abstract story.

Wall-E is lonely because he’s the only sentient creature on Earth. But Wall-E isn’t troubled by the anger or desperation that plagues Robert Neville. Homer is a buffoon without the added pathos of an actor’s persona that transforms characters like John Belushi’s John Blutarsky or Chris Farley’s Tommy. Shrek is alien and “ugly” in a sterile, simple way that John Merrick is not. Ariel is troubled by her longing for her prince, but is free of the deep sexuality of Daryl Hannah’s Madison.

The abstraction of cartoons lends itself to grand scales and harsh contrasts. Wall-E is alone in a world of trash. Ariel is a fish. Shrek is an ogre. Just as cartoons simplify and abstract human qualities to pare the characters down to simple essences, cartoons tend to exaggerate circumstances and conflicts. These are differences in style that are accentuated by medium. The abstraction of cartoons is not  flaw, it’s a feature. Flattening characters and stretching plots allow writers and artists to narrow their focus.

Which is what makes Up! all the more remarkable. Carl Fredrickson is an abstract representation of sapping, eroding despair. He is a character grayed by time and grief. And while he is still certainly a cartoon abstraction, his history is filled and rounded. His grief is compounded and complicated by the little losses and troubles that beset everyone; the petty details of life that derail plans and projects are not embellished or stretched, they simply happen. He does not wallow in his grief, he is not reduced to a caricature or simpleton. Rather he endures, and we feel his longing in the way he places his palm against a mailbox or the way he dusts his mantle.

Carl is simply sad. He’s not sad because the world is dying, or because he will be ripped forever from his homeland by magic. He’s not sad because society shuns and disowns him, and he’s not sad for being a failure. He’s sad because his wife died. He is no less abstract than Wall-E or Shrek or Ariel, but he is much more human. His grief is a human grief, his sorrow is a human sorrow, and while the journey he takes out of sorrow is fantastic, his adventures only serve to highlight his troubles. In the end, he eases his sorrow with as simple an act as can be imagined.

There might be snipes and talking dogs and flying houses, but that’s all mere fantasy; like finding patterns in passing clouds,  it’s a diversion and a joy. But the movie, for all its soaring flights is anchored by the simplest of human relationships: a man’s love for his wife, the need of a child for security and safety, the love a dog has for his master.

Up! is the simplest, most grounded, movie that Pixar has made yet and it’s wonderful.

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Movies!

After doing the Book post, I decided to do a movie post. So here’s what I’ve done. I took the American Film Institute’s Top 100 movies, and then their 2007 redux of that list. What I’ve seen is in bold. (No Italics, not finishing a movie doesn’t count for anything.) But the AFI list missed some great movies, so I compiled my own list (separated by a line of asterisks) that follows theirs.

The AFI list is in the order of the original list, with the 23 changes following the original 100 (the original list ends with Yankee Doodle Dandy). For my list, some of these are old favorites, some are recent and fresh in my mind. I don’t imply it to be a definitive “best of” list, just movies I liked and remembered. My additions are definitely NOT in any order.

On to the movies.

Citizen Kane

Great cinematography, but not the best movie of all time.

Casablanca

Fantastic. A truly great movie. Bergman is so beautiful and Bogart is the definition of cool. The best movie ever made.

The Godfather

This is a true classic. Great story, fabulous cast. The mob. What else is there?

Gone with the Wind

I don’t have any desire to see it. I know, it’s supposed to be great.

Lawrence of Arabia

I would like to watch this… I’ve rented it twice but I haven’t had time to watch the whole thing.

The Wizard of Oz

ehh… First movie ever made in color, I guess that counts for something.

The Graduate

ehh… very overrated.

On the Waterfront

ehh… it just doesn’t do it for me.

Schindler’s List

It’s very good. Ralph Fiennes is spectacular. It’s ending is contrived and over emotional, but by then the audience needs the catharsis. When I first saw this I watched it with a friend and her student, a little blond Jewish girl with round glasses. The red jacket in the wheelbarrow… it was tough to watch.

Singin’ in the Rain

It’s great. : D

It’s a Wonderful Life

I like it and I hate it. It’s economic message is awful but I love the way Jimmy Stewart refuses to help a naked Donna Reed.

Sunset Boulevard

The Bridge on the River Kwai

So, so, very great. Wrenching. But wow. Such great characters.

Some Like It Hot

Very, very funny. Very funny.


Star Wars

I was four. It was the greatest thing I’d ever seen. but Empire Strikes Back is better. Don’t talk to me about the others. They suck.

All About Eve

The African Queen

I actually don’t think the movie is so great, but the performances are magnificent.

Psycho

This is great horror. Modern slasher films are pathetic.

Chinatown

Jack.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Jack, Nurse Ratchet and a big Indian.

The Grapes of Wrath

pure awfulness

2001: A Space Odyssey

The best space movie ever made.Yes, the ending is bizarre, but it’s a good movie.

The Maltese Falcon

Bogart is so, so cool

Raging Bull

Joe Pesci’s greatest role. DeNiro is Jake Lamotta.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

oh so very, very treacly bad

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, and Peter Sellers. Also the first toilet flush in cinema history.

Bonnie and Clyde

Not just bad, but Warren Beatty bad.

Apocalypse Now

It’s overrated.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

very very good. Treacly, but very good.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!

Annie Hall

Good, but not Woody Allen’s best, not by a long shot.

The Godfather II

Best. Sequel. Ever.

High Noon

Gary Cooper rocks.

To Kill a Mockingbird

So, so great. Gregory Peck is just awe inspiring

It Happened One Night

Midnight Cowboy

The scene where the coconut falls out the window may be the saddest moment in film history.

The Best Years of Our Lives

Double Indemnity

just darn good movie making

Doctor Zhivago

So I finally rented this about a year ago. I put in the DVD and it starts on a train, and I’m watching, and I can’t figure out what’s supposed to hook me, and I don’t get the characters, and there’s no development, and I don’t care about anyone… turns out I put the second disc in first. Oy.

North by Northwest

just darn good movie making

West Side Story

ehh… Shakespeare is actually better. (Hard to believe, I know…)

Rear Window

Stewart’s only creepy role.

King Kong (1933)

Yeah, it’s OK. It doesn’t move me the way it moves other people. Although there is that topless Faye Wray scene…

The Birth of a Nation

talk about evil movies…

A Streetcar Named Desire

Vivien Leigh as Blanche. Brando as Kowalski. Greatest. Casting. Ever.

A Clockwork Orange

Freaky, freaky, freaky. But great.

Taxi Driver

DeNiro is so weirdly strange…. When he takes Cybill Shepherd to the movies… such a painful scene.

Jaws

“I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Yes, it’s good. But nostalgia aside, Pixar’s stuff is better.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

It’s really not a great movie. It’s ok, but not great.

The Philadelphia Story

Hepburn, Stewart, and Grant. It’s everything a romantic comedy should be.

From Here to Eternity

Amadeus

The stage play is better, but the movie is still good. Although I really, really wish they had kept Tim Curry as Mozart.

All Quiet on the Western Front

Damn good war film.

The Sound of Music

Yes, it really is very good.

M*A*S*H

Overrated. The TV show ended up being better.

The Third Man

Fantasia

The soundtrack is great. The movie is an irritating distraction.

Rebel Without a Cause

This didn’t speak to me the way it did to some people.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

From Han Solo to Indiana Jones. Wow. Making Archeology cool and sexy is no mean feat. Only Indiana Jones and George Bey can do it.

Vertigo

Outstanding.

Tootsie

A truly remarkable performance.

Stagecoach

Good. The Searchers is better.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Overrated. Although every time I have mashed potatoes I think of this movie.

The Silence of the Lambs

Hopkins is overrated — Foster’s was the real performance.

Network

The Manchurian Candidate

A great, great movie. Who knew Frank could be such a good actor?

An American in Paris

Shane

It’s ok. There are much better Westerns.

The French Connection

Good, but not all-time great. Started the cop/buddy genre.

Forrest Gump

I’ve seen so many clips, I think I’ve actually seen the movie.

Ben-Hur

WOW. But renting it is wrong, unless you have at least a 15 foot television screen.

Wuthering Heights

The Gold Rush

Dances with Wolves

A wrenchingly stupid movie.

City Lights

Really, really great. Magical.

American Graffiti

Whatever. Boomer nostalgia run amok. Lucas should stick to action.

Rocky

It really is good. The sequels (except for the last) all stink, but the first is really very good.

The Deer Hunter

The Wild Bunch

They’re not good people. They’re really, really not.

Modern Times

Giant

Platoon

It’s a very good movie.

Fargo

One of the all-time greats? No.

Duck Soup

I just don’t get it….

Mutiny on the Bounty

Very good.

Frankenstein

It’s OK. Bride of Frankenstein is the better movie.

Easy Rider

Boomer narcissism at it’s nadir, apex, whatever

Patton

Good, but too far too long.

The Jazz Singer

The first movie with sound.

My Fair Lady

Oh so very good. So very good.

A Place in the Sun

The Apartment

Goodfellas

Not Liotta’s, nor Pesci’s, nor DeNiro’s, nor Scorsese’s best.

Pulp Fiction

Fun. : D

The Searchers

Morally ambiguous. Obsessive. Great movie.

Bringing Up Baby

Hepburn and Grant again. It’s a romp.

Unforgiven

One of the best Western’s ever made. Truly great.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Oh, so amazingly fantastically wonderful.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

It’s really one long movie, and it should probably make the top 25, if not the top 10.

Saving Private Ryan

It’s really not that great a movie, but it has a great opening sequence.

Titanic

The word is synonymous with expensive, spectacular, disaster. So is the movie. I know it made more money than the mint could print, but it’s a BAD movie.

The Sixth Sense

One of the greatest twists of all time.

The General

Intolerance

Nashville

ehh…

Sullivan’s Travels

Cabaret

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

The Shawshank Redemption

It’s so, so fabulously great. This is a wonderful, wonderful movie. I’ve never cared so much about a killer.

In the Heat of the Night

Poitier rocks.

All the President’s Men

More Boomer narcissism

Spartacus

Homo-eroticism at it’s most refreshingly innocent.

Sunrise

A Night at the Opera

12 Angry Men

An acting tour-de-force.

Swing Time

Sophie’s Choice

To say this is a great performance is like saying the Nazis were bad.

The Last Picture Show

Hot.

Do The Right Thing

It’s a very, very good movie.

Blade Runner

Best Science Fiction movie ever made.

Toy Story

Good, but The Incredibles is better.

*******************

A Room With a View

Truth! Beauty! Love! Mr. Beebe, Lucy, George, Cecil…. I love it, I love it, I love it. I really, really love this movie. : D

Groundhog Day

It’s a great movie, if you haven’t seen it, rent it. Bill Murray and the worst day ever.

The Princess Bride

It’s one of the best adaptations ever made. Andre the Giant and Mandy Patinkin steal the show.

A Lion in Winter

Razor sharp dialog, Peter O’Toole in the performance of a lifetime alongside a riveting and amazing Hepburn. Plus Timothy Dalton when he must have been about 12 and Anthony Hopkins looking very, very young.

Beckett

Such a good script.

The Incredibles

So much fun. : D

Notting Hill

I love this movie because the way Hugh Grant feels about Julia Roberts is the way I feel about my wife. : D

When Harry Met Sally

A sentimental favorite from High School. I still think it’s very funny.

The Long Kiss Goodnight

It’s a great thrill ride. If you haven’t seen it, you should.

Little Miss Sunshine

A recent fave. The metaphor of the bus is so apt.

Blazing Saddles

Maybe the funniest movie ever (it’s in the running), it just could not be made today.

Young Frankenstein

Worth watching just for the Puttin’ on the Ritz scene.

Hannah and Her Sisters

Woody Allen’s best movie.

Manhattan

Spectacular cinematography.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

If the AFI can put shlock like Easy Rider on the list for the Boomers, then Gen X can have Ferris.

The Breakfast Club

Judd Nelson’s flaring nostrils, Molly Ringwald’s pouty lips, Emilio Esteves’s blank stare and Anthony Michael Hall as… The Geek. It’s a bad movie, but it’s OUR bad movie.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

John Candy’s best performance.

A Christmas Story

Who doesn’t love this movie?

Sabrina (both versions)

Lifestyles of the Rich and Beautiful… both are very good romantic movies.

A Fish Called Wanda

I don’t really like Jamie Lee Curtis, but Michael Palin, Kevin Kline, and John Cleese are outstanding.


This is Spinal Tap

On a scale of one to ten, this one goes to eleven.


Raising Arizona

Nicolas Cage’s best role.


Animal House

A classic. Belushi is just grand.


Big

Tom Hanks does a wonderful job. It’s a great fairy tale.


Harold and Maude

Sex between a teenage boy and a very old lady. It’s a fantastic, beautiful, wonderful, joyous movie. It really, really is.


Beverly Hills Cop

Eddie Murphy when he was funny.


Caddyshack

What’s the greatest movie ever made? Caddyshack. What’s the worst movie ever made? Caddyshack 2.


Victor/Victoria

Mary Poppins shows her boobs and everyone is gay. But it’s a great movie.


Stripes

Funniest training camp movie ever. A blast. Incredible. Turn it off after they leave basic training. Seriously. Turn it off.


Beetlejuice

Michael Keaton is so brilliantly over the top.


The Jerk

Also in the running for funniest movie ever made. All I need is this chair. That’s all I need.


Bull Durham

Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.


Hunt For Red October

Jack Ryan and Sean Connery. Under water. Classic cold-war thriller.


Apollo 13

It’s a great and it’s true.


Glory

It’s even greater and it’s still true.


The Color Purple

Whoopi Goldberg in one of the greatest performances of all time.


Barbarians at The Gate

Gotta Love Big Tobacco! : D

Thank You For Smoking!

No, really. Big Tobacco rocks.


A Raisin in the Sun

What happens to a dream deferred?


Searching for Bobby Fischer

Makes chess and obsessive parenting thrilling.


Witness

A gritty Amish cop drama, a barn raising, and Kelly McGillis. Now that’s good movie-making!

Frantic

A taut suspense-filled drama. Harrison Ford does a great job.


L.A. Confidential

A throwback movie — it’s an homage to tinsel town, and it’s very, very good.


Alien

Scary. Very, very scary.


Marathon Man

Lawrence Olivier as the penultimate dentist. I hate dentists.

Little Shop of Horrors

Speaking of dentists… Steve Martin is grand, and it’s a riot of a movie.


Gaslight

Very creepy. A great psychological thriller.


Cash McCall

John Galt is named Cash McCall. James Garner was a stud.


Braveheart

Gibson’s Epic. It’s moving and bloody and funny and very, very well done.


Full Metal Jacket

Charlene…


Clueless

The best Jane Austen movie ever made.


Pirates of the Caribbean

Johnny Depp in the role of a lifetime.


As Good as it Gets

Nicholson in a romantic comedy. And it works.


The Remains of the Day

It’s painful, it’s slow, it’s wrenching and it’s depressing. But it’s also very good.


Cousins

Ted Danson and Isabella Rosselini in a wonderful romantic comedy.


Four Weddings and a Funeral

Andie McDowell is bad, terrifyingly awful. It’s still a very, very good movie.


Rushmore

An odd little movie, it’s quirky and great.


The English Patient

A spectacular movie with a moral: Don’t leave the woman you love to die alone in a cave.

Wings of Desire

A beautiful film. Transcendent.


City of Angels

It’s a kind of a remake of Wings of Desire. Very, very good in it’s own way.


Life is Beautiful

Beautiful. Just beautiful.


Shakespeare in Love

I think Stoppard’s screenplay is delightful.


Sliding Doors

I’m a sap when it comes to romantic comedies with a British flair. But I think this one is very good.


Cyrano De Bergerac

A classic.


Casino Royale

The new one. Bond the way he should be. Best Bond movie ever.

Fight Club

Brad Pitt is the best double fictional character ever.

Stranger Than Fiction

Will Farrell in an absolutely lovely movie. Maggie Gyllenhall is great.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

…saved from almost certain temptation.

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

Every sperm is sacred.

Stand By Me

Based on The Body by Stephen King, it’s a great coming of age movie.

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

An absolute riot.

A Man for All Seasons

Integrity. Integrity. Integrity.

Brazil

Terry Gilliam’s best work. Magnificent.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Quirky, wierd… refreshing and riveting.


Henry V (Branagh)

A great movie. A great play.


Chariots of Fire

They run. It’s still great.

Trainspotting

Heroin is not cool.

Lost in Translation

Bill Murray in a quiet, subtle, wonderful film.

Cinema Paradiso

Oh so wonderful–a joyous movie.

Tampopo

A Japanese Western with a Japanese John Wayne and the quest for the perfect bowl of noodles. : D

Amelie

Lyrical, magical, wonderful, moving, touching… it’s a delight.

The Full Monty

Laugh out loud funny, a classic “feel-good” movie

The Commitments

Irish Soul. Great Soundtrack — a great music movie.

My Left Foot

Daniel Day Lewis in a performance that defies description. Unbelievable — and inspirational too.

Educating Rita

It’s not often a movie can successfully dramatize the joy of learning… this one does.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Steve Martin and Michael Caine in a romp.

The Sum of Us

A very young Russell Crowe as a gay man with an adoring father. A great movie about finding the joy in life.

Les Enfants Du Paradise

Made in secret during the Nazi occupation of Paris, this movie is breathtakingly beautiful.

Jean De Florette

A movie about property rights… and a French one at that!

Red, Blue, White

Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy (the colors of the French flag) Each movie is excellent.

The Piano

Holly Hunter in the role in of her life.

Flirting

A brilliantly funny and charming coming of age movie, this is fantastic.

Like Water for Chocolate

A great example of magical realism, this movie will make you hungry.

Strictly Ballroom

An absolute classic, this is one of the best Australian movies ever made.

Shall We Dance (Japan)

Inspired by Strictly Ballroom, it’s very Japanese, and very tender.

Belle Epoque

What a summer….

Finding Nemo

Very funny. Pixar is very good.

Armageddon

I know. It’s awful bad. But it’s so cheesy… I love it.

Austin Powers, Man of Mystery

Surprisingly funny and witty, Mike Meyers does a great job. Dr. Evil is an inspired character.

The Elephant Man

Tough to watch, but a good good movie.


The World According to Garp

So much was cut from the book, but it’s still a fine movie.

Ocean’s Eleven

So much better than the original…. it’s so much fun.


The Last Temptation of Christ

I never quite understood the religious objections to this tender and very loving portrayal of Jesus on the cross.


Driving Miss Daisy

Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy are both great actors. They’re so good, they got Dan Akroyd an Oscar nomination.

The X-men

One of the best comic-book adaptations. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine was perfect.

Spiderman

Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker… it’s a fun movie.

Walk the Line

The Man in Black. Cash. Great music, great movie. Reese Witherspoon is outstanding.

Cast Away

Tom Hanks and a bloody volleyball. It’s still a good movie.

Chocolat

Johnny Depp and Juliet Binoche… what else do you need?

Almost Famous

Kate Hudson is very, very attractive.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

The special effects are breathtaking. The ending is very Chinese, and very irritating.

Shrek

Very, very funny.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Russel Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey. It’s a good adaptation. I wish they’d make more.


Sideways

It was oversold when it premiered, but it stands up well over time. It’s really a coming of age story.


Cinderella Man

Another Russell Crowe movie. He’s the next Mel Gibson. A great feel-good movie.

The Simpsons Movie

It’s a two-hour long episode. Well done.


Howards End

Snooty brits destroy love. Lavish and well done, it’s Forster’s counter-point to A Room with a View.


A Few Good Men

We all know the quote…. But for me, the real joy is watching Demi Moore and Tom Cruise on screen together. At times you can’t tell which is which.

The Harry Potter Movies

They’ve all been good. If you love the books, you’ll love the movies.


What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

A breakthrough performance by Leonardo Di Caprio, but Johnny Depp steals the show.


Good Will Hunting

Affleck and Damon deserved the Oscar for an excellent script. Van Sandt deserved an Oscar for getting that performance out of Affleck.


Joe vs. The Volcano

It’s the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie you haven’t seen. A lovely fairy tale.

You’ve Got Mail

Predictable, formulaic, obvious, and utterly charming.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Delightful and original. A real pleasure.

The Addams Family

Raul Julia as Gomez Addams… it’s a truly great movie. Great.


The Truman Show

Jim Carey in his first serious role. Peter Weir directed… it’s a good movie.


Knocked Up

Surprisingly tender and serious. A very good little movie.


Edward Scissorhands

Johnny Depp in a fantastical fairy tale. Anthony Michael Hall as… the stud?????

Hamlet (Branagh)

Uncut, the movie is long, but Blenheim Palace is so gorgeous and the acting so exact, this is great Shakespeare


Romeo and Juliet
(The DiCaprio version)

Zefferelli’s version is good, but it lacks bite and style, which the play clearly has. Despite its shortcomings, this is the better Shakespeare.