65. Groundhog Day
I wasted the first fifteen years of my life NOT watching Groundhog Day. That’s because my Dad once told me I ought to watch it, describing it as a movie about a guy who gets to be really good at playing the piano. Weird takeaway. And not a description that made me rush out to see it. But here we are.
Can you believe there was a time when we took Bill Murray and Harold Ramis comedies for granted? Groundhog Day comes out in 1993, the reaction is basically “Oh another comedy by these guys, yeah it’s pretty good.” Little did we know the filmmakers made something that was designed to endure. A PG comedy named after a holiday is destined to air on TV once a year every year. And through repeated exposure, we slowly realize that it’s not good, it’s great.
Proof, Roger Ebert rated it three stars in 1993, then put it on his Great Movies list a decade later. I could probably come up with a second example if I wanted.
The film’s comedy is instantly apparent for you to enjoy, as is the chemistry between Murray and Andie MacDowell. But Groundhog Day is philosophical, it’s filled with existential pain, and it has a premise that, as the years go on, becomes a point of reference. If you’re stuck in a rut, you don’t say “This feels like I’m repeating the same day.” You say “This feels like Groundhog Day.”
Maybe tons of forgotten comedies have as much happening beneath the surface as this movie and we just don’t know it. Could Jersey Girl have become the next Groundhog Day? Someone should watch that movie a second time and report back.
Much as I love the movie, it’s also a bit of a white whale for me. Famously, there was a draft of the script in which Phil pissed off a gypsy and was cursed to repeat the same day forever. But Ramis threw that away, making this into a story in which Phil had no choice but to live with his circumstances instead of to trying to find a way out of them.
It’s a lesson I take to heart when I write, but if I do a high concept script and send it off for feedback it’s always “Why does your character have cheeseburgers for feet?” And I’ll say “Who cares, it’s more about how he deals with having cheeseburgers for feet.” And I shake my fist at Groundhog Day for being a movie about a weird thing happening for no reason that no one ever questions. Why? Simply, no one wants to because it’s so great.
God dammit that pisses me off.
Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Anxiety (Suspense): N/A
Awe (Visual Impact): N/A
Affection (Emotional Impact): HIGH. Especially as Phil hits his low point in the middle of the movie.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. Think about how tough it is to make a story in which we see the same scenes over and over again and keep it interesting.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): HIGH. Bill Murray is a master.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. Prompts a lot of “What if it were me?” type thoughts after you’ve seen it.
“Bond is a brute, I’ve already put him behind me. I will never play him again. Peace, that’s the message now.” ~ George Lazenby
64. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
A movie that seems to find itself as it goes along, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service starts out as just kind of a pile of scenes. Fight scene, dialogue scene. Fight scene, dialogue scene. Falling in love montage set to Louis Armstrong, dialogue scene. What? Sure. It might occur to you that you ought to pay attention and figure out what’s stringing all these scenes together, but as someone who’s watched this movie a lot, I’m here to warn you it’s a waste of effort.
After about 45 minutes a story starts to emerge; James Bond is going undercover into the heart of his arch enemy’s mountaintop lair to uncover his latest scheme. By the time 007 is discovered and running for his life, OHMSS has sneakily turned into an all time great Bond movie right under your nose. At no point, before or since, have the makers of James Bond equaled what they accomplish in the last hour or so of OHMSS.
Bond sets off with all of SPECTRE behind him and leads them through a dazzling series of winter themed chases. Editor Peter Hunt was an early innovator, and finally put in charge of directing a movie, he puts together these fast action scenes that move like lightning. The ski and bobsled sequences were far ahead of their time in 1969 and still hold up today.
There are breaks in the chase at just the right places, because Bond is on the run with the woman he’s destined to marry. As played by the incredible Diana Rigg, Tracy has a relationship with Bond that engenders some honest to God emotional investment. As played by the “Hey it’s that guy from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” George Lazenby, 007 is presented as a guy who can fight his way out of a corner but whose luck might run out at any moment. Lazenby isn’t all that charismatic, and not that great an actor, but he’s convincing in the action scenes, and at times just seems like a real guy who’s scared of getting killed. It does wonders for the tension.
If you look at the rest of the series you’ll find a couple other touching moments, plenty of great action scenes, some legitimate suspense. But nowhere else are all three elements sustained together at such a high pitch, for as long a time. I enjoy the first two thirds of the movie quite a lot, the incredible cinematography and great actors are enough to keep me invested through the patchwork storyline, but any flaws are long in the rearview mirror by the end the third act has had its way with you.
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Appreciation (Construction): LOW. It’s a pretty messy plot, to be honest.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. There’s a lot of strange moments that may or may not be funny on purpose.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. The section of the film between Bond’s Piz Gloria escape and his reunion with Tracy is quite suspenseful, thanks to George Lazenby’s performance.
Affection (Emotional Impact): HIGH. The proposal scene, and the famous last moment hold up incredibly.
Awe (Visual Impact): EXTRAORDINARY. The cinematography is second only to Skyfall in the series.
Adrenaline (Excitement): EXTRAORDINARY. You’ve got to have a lot of patience, but once the action starts it never stops.
“Here was a secret agent who MURDERED people, in cold blood. Bam bam bam BAM BAM!” ~ Timothy Dalton
63. The Living Daylights
The Living Daylights and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service are perpetually trading off Positions #2 and #3 on my list of favourite 007 movies. If even I can’t choose between them, why should there be any (living) daylight(s) between them on this list? It’s always changing. Refresh the page and maybe I’ll have flipped the placement with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I won’t have done that, but it boosts my Page Views.
The Living Daylights high points aren’t as high as OHMSS, but what makes up the difference between them is a young man named Timothy L. Dalton. If George Lazenby was sufficient, Dalton is an asset. This guy commands the screen. In appearance and in delivery he brings a bit of a theatricality to the role of James Bond, but he also keeps it Real. There’s more shades to the Dalton Bond aside from what we associate with the character, he can be cold, calculating, even vengeful, but considering the plot of the movie involves Bond wooing a baddie’s girlfriend away in order to get crucial information, we see glimpses of something more gentle. And he’s another Bond who can come across as battered and tired.
Dalton was cast late in the process and the screenwriters weren’t able to tailor a script to his strengths (something they did with Licence to Kill, a flawed but deeply interesting film). So to cover their bases they wrote basically the quintessential Bond movie, featuring Aston Martins, visits to Q Branch, fights on the back of planes, exploding milk bottles, about ten changes of locale, and an enjoyably convoluted villainous scheme to unravel.
It’s everything you expect from the series, and then it all feels grounded because the lead actor comes in and commits 100%. He and his leading lady sincerely seem to care for each other, a getaway in an improvised cello case toboggan feels like quick thinking, an evil plan to trade diamonds for heroin for weaponry feels like it could have real geopolitical ramifications. Everything that ought to be silly feels real.
Some people like the grittier Bond, some like the over-the-top escapism, The Living Daylights manages to combine both and make it work.
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Applicability (Real World Resonance): LOW. Highly dated with its “Let’s help the Afghans fight the evil Russians!” storyline. Though maybe it won’t always be that way…?
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. It’s not a grim movie like Licence to Kill but it’s played fairly straight.
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. Mainly in the relationship between Bond and Kara, which feels bizarrely real.
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. Lacks Bond grandiosity but it’s a great travelogue of Europe and the Middle East.
Anxiety (Suspense): MODERATE. Good God, that scene with Bond hanging off the net.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. A plot that could easily lose you if you’re not paying attention, but it’s well constructed.
Adrenaline (Excitement): EXTRAORDINARY. And if you get confused there’s a terrific action scene just moments away.
“I want to have so much behind me I’m not a slave to what’s in front of me, especially [whispers fearfully] these flavourless, unremarkable Marvel movies.” ~Annie Edison, Community
62. Into the Spider-Verse
All my life I’d wanted a movie that fully lived up to what I knew Spider-Man could be. The Sam Raimi movies had some truly kinetic action scenes. The Andrew Garfield movies had a pretty decent love story. The MCU Spider-Man was genuinely pretty funny. Reboot after reboot, each of them nailing one aspect of Spider-Man, but one aspect alone. I’d long given up hope of seeing the character fully maximize his potential in a single film.
Enter Into the Spider-Verse, a movie I didn’t know existed until like a week before it came to theatres. I saw it and it all clicked; he has to be animated! Of course a character as lively and fluid as Spider-Man has to be animated.
If you told me that the staff at Pixar had secretly recruited people off the street to come in and make The Incredible 2 while they sneaked off to work on Into the Spider-Verse, I would believe you. In terms of tone, comedy, and the amount of heart, this feels exactly like the kind of thing Peak Pixar would have made. Maybe that’s underselling it. I mean WOW is this movie inventive.
Spider-Verse really is the complete package. At times it’s almost like a PG Deadpool in terms of how deranged the comedy is, especially when we start meeting more alternate reality Spider-
Men-Women-People-Things. The visual style does take a bit of getting used to, but the film ramps us up slowly but surely into some dazzling action scenes.
And when some real drama begins later on it’s layered in perfectly. How genius an idea was it to cast Jake Johnson as a slightly past his prime Spider-Man? It’s Nick from New Girl basically playing Nick from New Girl who’s also Spider-Man, and it’s funny for sure but he makes Peter Parker into a real guy.
I don’t have anything against the bigger Marvel Cinematic Universe or the general proliferation of superhero flicks in general… anything that pisses off Bill Maher has to have some inherent value… but it’s not really my genre. I feel like too many of them are part of a brand, and no matter how many people tell me how different or edgy something like Black Panther or Thor 3 is I just don’t see it. With this movie I at long last feel like I’ve got a modern superhero movie I can call my own, and with respect to the MCU this animated corner of the Marvelverse is what I’m keeping my eye on.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Anxiety (Suspense): LOW. The Kingpin and the Prowler have their intimidating moments.
Appreciation (Construction): LOW. Sufficiently uncomplicated enough story to cause a bunch of different Spider-Heroes to team up and do battle together.
Affection (Emotional Impact): MODERATE. Everything in the dorm room scene along gives the movie a beating heart.
Adrenaline (Excitement): HIGH. Beautiful choreographed action scenes on par with everything Sam Raimi did in his movies.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): HIGH. It’s a riot, honestly.
Awe (Visual Impact): EXTRAORDINARY. A visual comic book in a way that live action couldn’t (and shouldn’t) accomplish.
“Hope you don’t mind my… dropping in.” ~ Ilsa
I’d liked and admired this film as a teenager, but hadn’t really understood why it’s one of America’s masterpieces. In putting together this list, I figured I owed the movie a rewatch. And at first, my thoughts hadn’t really changed. I’d enjoyed my second viewing of Casablanca, but there’s nothing about the film that is ostentatious. There are hardly any cello case toboggan chases.
But here’s the thing; I haven’t been able to make myself leave Casablanca. There’s much to do and other movies to watch, but images of that gin joint and that fog shrouded runway have lodged in my mind. I can’t stop thinking about that time in Paris, or of Rick’s incredible sacrifice. I’ll always wonder if Ilsa sincerely loved Rick, or if she was playing him. Or both. And I wonder if the two of them ever saw each other again. It’s a question that no Simpsons alternate ending can ever satisfy.
On second thought, I can see why this film has endured. It’s one of America’s great romances, and it may have mainstreamed the concept of “bittersweet” in cinema. Casablanca is insidious in its utter, absolute goodness. Once the credits roll, its impact is felt.
Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Amusement (Humour/Elation): MODERATE. Sardonic is the name of the game here, to conceal his beating heart Rick is sarcastic or snide in more or less every sentence.
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. It’s mostly set in one gin joint but they shoot the hell out of it.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. Germans are closing in, hidden agendas threaten to reveal themselves, there’s no shortage of tension.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. Will ring true to anyone who’s ever been in love with someone it’d be healthier not to be in love with, and for anyone who’s had to choose between their own happiness and some greater cause.
Affection (Emotional Impact): HIGH. The resolution to the triangle, which seems pretty inevitable as the movie is happening, really wound up moving me the more I thought about it.
Appreciation (Construction): EXTRAORDINARY. One of the all time great scripts.