Don’t tell me that society hasn’t progressed, because time was if you were a teenage male, you couldn’t admit to liking anything about Titanic aside from Kate Winslet’s boobs. Any more than that and you’d be subjected to schoolyard teasing about how you must be in loooove with Leo di Caprio. I’m ashamed to say those kind of taunts used to be effective. Over twenty years later, things are different. Either we’re less homophobic, or Leo is now seen as a serious actor, or the hype and the backlash and the backlash to the backlash has cleared up, but it’s now easier just to assess Titanic on its own merits.
Titanic is many things at once. It’s a throwback to star studded 1970s disaster flicks like The Poseidon Adventure, it’s a melodramatic Gone With the Wind style old Hollywood romance, it’s a James Cameron cutting edge action/adventure. And it’s the best possible version of all of these things in one package.
I’ll admit that the action/thriller aspects are the main draw for me, but that alone isn’t enough. The late 90s were rife with action packed yet emotionally empty disaster movies. What really separates Titanic from the Independence Days and Armageddons of this world is the slow burn of the disaster. About 50 minutes of screentime pass between the iceberg hit and the first onscreen death. The people aboard the ship realize their fate in what feels like real time, and when hell breaks lose it has more impact because the faces are familiar. That long period of dawning horror gives us in the audience time to contemplate that what we’re seeing is a real tragedy that happened to real people.
But you know what, Pearl Harbor was a real tragedy too, and the movie they made about it sucked. It’s Jack and Rose who bring Titanic to life. You can say a lot about how the two of them don’t really feel like real people, Jack especially is impossibly idealized at times. But within the context of this whirlwind, forbidden, borderline taboo relationship set against the backdrop of an impending tragedy, I love their story. The hour and a half spent with their characters before the iceberg hit is time well spent, I care more about the disaster because it’s happening to people we’ve gotten to know.
I know popularity isn’t always an indicator of quality, but sometimes the #1 highest grossing movie in the world brings in that much money for a good reason.
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. That shit with Billy Zane being all “Picasso? It will never catch on dear boy” is the fucking worst.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. Real class struggles, real historical events, real tragedy.
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. That much lauded storytelling device of giving us the exposition for what happened to Titanic early on, which gives clarity to the events of the film and allows us to feel the visceral aspects.
Adrenaline (Excitement): HIGH. Keeps the thrill level high in the second half.
Awe (Visual Impact): EXTRAORDINARY. Titanic at every stage, including its death throes, is magnificent to behold.
Anxiety (Suspense): EXTRAORDINARY. Oddly, showing us that one main character survives only makes us more anxious about whether or not the other one will die.
Affection (Emotional Impact): EXTRAORDINARY. Were I not dead inside I’d be crying.
Is one Airplane! worth a dozen Epic Movies? Because like Jaws, this is a film that created its own subgenre, and to this day remains the only truly great entry therein.
In this kind of joke a second picture, the best you can hope for is maybe a 50% success rate. Airplane! hovers around that point, with hundreds of smile and chuckle worthy moments and a real solid belly laugh maybe once every few minutes. As statistics go, that’s pretty good, but not much better than The Naked Gun, the Zucker Brother’s runner-up best flick. But though that’s a funny movie in its own right, what it fails to do… what every comedy like this has failed to do aside from Airplane!… is set a tone that makes the movie consistently entertaining even when the humour is falling flat.
This is a dire, dramatic story, and the comedy grafted upon it co-exists beautifully with the inherent tension of the film’s situation. An airline full of passengers stricken with food poisoning and a traumatized former pilot having to make an emergency landing is a solid premise for a thriller (I won’t watch Zero Hour!, the movie Airplane! is based on). Elmer Bernstein’s soundtrack is subtly overblown, but never tips its hand that it’s the score for a comedy. Most of all, there’s a cavalcade of Silver Haired Middle Aged Men in every authoritative role in this movie, treating the proceedings with absolute seriousness, and it works beautifully.
Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, and Lloyd Bridge’s lives and careers were changed by Airplane! But that’s not to undervalue Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty, who carry the picture pretty well. Most of those aforementioned Silver Haired Middle Aged Men (along with the scene-stealing Johnny) don’t even enter the story until the halfway point, but the two leads provide some solid laughs and (slight) underlying pathos in the meantime.
No other comedy like this was going to feel as fresh as Airplane! and it would have been hard to replicate a cast this brilliant, but even so, every copycat took the wrong lesson from this movie. Maybe the worst joke in the whole picture is “That’s not possible, they’re on instruments.” Airplane 2 is just that joke made into an entire film, and none of the non-Naked Gun movies in this subgenre do much better.
But even if there are (let’s be honest) plenty of bad jokes in Airplane!, the 50s thriller aesthetic and mock dramatic tone keeps the film watchable. With the volume down it’s conceivable that you’d mistake it for a serious movie, though you might wonder why watermelons are occasionally falling out of the sky.
Awe (Visual Impact): N/A
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Adrenaline (Excitement): N/A
Affection (Emotional Impact): LOW. Ted and Elaine are sweet kids, and I am kind of rooting for them to get back together.
Appreciation (Construction): LOW. The movie paces itself well, it gets you used to the style and tone, then freshens things up by bringing out many of its greatest characters in the second half.
Anxiety (Suspense): MODERATE. A plane being in danger is an intense scenario even if it’s funny too.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): EXTRAORDINARY. “All right, give me Hamm on five, hold the Mayo.”
”Have you planned your vacation yet?”
8. North by Northwest
Hitchcock’s body of work is so huge that an entire subgenre exists within it; the wrongfully accused chase movie. Ordinary fellow is in the wrong place at the wrong time and then tries to find a way out as he pursued by the authorities and criminals alike. North by Northwest is sort of Hitch’s final essay when it comes to this kind of movie, it’s bigger and more star studded and packed with setpieces than ever before.
And it was also the first Hitchcock movie I ever saw, so the extravagance and the confidence of the film paired with its (for me) freshness gave it an immediate and unassailable spot among my all time favourites. If I’d worked my way through The 39 Steps and The Man Who Knew Too Little and then watched North by Northwest, would I have found it too derivative to really enjoy? I don’t like to dwell on such things.
Hitchcock once again knows the importance of the sequence. It’s not enough to let a fun overall plot unfold, the audience has to be enjoying themselves on a moment by moment basis. So we get these endlessly entertaining scenes with Cary Grant trying to explain his situation while plastered out of his mind, or taking his mother of all people as back-up as he tries to unravel the plot he’s caught up in. And that’s just the first half hour. Everyone knows about the crop-duster, everyone knows about the Mount Rushmore chase, I’ve got nothing but envy for the hypothetical viewer who goes in not knowing that they’re about to get two all time classic scenes in one sitting.
If you put aside the danger of it all, Roger Thornhill does go on a really quite nice vacation. He starts in New York, has sex on a train, takes in the Chicago culture scene, and sees Mount Rushmore up close. That’s yet another gift of the movies, if we’ve got a touch of the wanderlust we can go on these really pleasant, inexpensive trips, even though they’re tarted up with a lot of danger and mystery.
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Affection (Emotional Impact): LOW. I feel pretty bad for Eve in parts of the movie, she’s doing what she has to do and you can see how it’s wearing on her.
Anxiety (Suspense): MODERATE. Actually not as much as many other Hitchcock movies, it’s overall a playful movie with some suspenseful moments.
Awe (Visual Impact): HIGH. One of the biggest and best of Hitch’s career.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. My secret aspiration is for this kind of thing to happen to me on a vacation.
Adrenaline (Excitement): HIGH. Bernie Herrmann going full on action adventure, his music makes even the silliest of chase scenes exciting.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): HIGH. Thornhill adjusts to his situation pretty quickly, considering how flippant and quippy he is throughout.
Appreciation (Construction): EXTRAORDINARY. One of the all time wittiest scripts directed by a master filmmaker at his absolute apex.
7. The Dark Knight
The Joker and Two-Face are two of the most interesting villains around, so I was pre-disposed to enjoy any movie that incorporated both of them. But who could have predicted the degree to which Heath Ledger’s performance would become legendary? Or how likeable Aaron Eckhart would be as Harvey Dent before his transformation into Two-Face? It’s the same compliment people were giving Titanic, the early character investment makes the impending disaster feel more like a tragedy than something to be eagerly anticipated. You don’t want Harvey Dent’s face to hit that iceberg.
Those are the film’s two flashiest elements, but it’s the story that keeps me coming back to The Dark Knight. It’s a street level view of a Gotham City caught up in the midst of terror, as the Joker launches a series of attacks designed to prove that all of humanity has the potential to be as ugly as he is. It’s a very difficult thing to manage, a movie that depicts nonstop chaos without feeling like it’s being told chaotically, but the confidence of the direction and the script keeps us assured that we’re in good hands.
This was a movie I saw on Day 1 and absolutely loved, but any time I watched it again it was with friends, or it was on in the background while I did something else. The last time I watched The Dark Knight I really watched it, and I realized how daring the structure was. The entire second half is made up of events that feel like they’d be the ending of any other movie, but The Dark Knight always carries on past that and you start to feel like it could keep going indefinitely if it wanted. It’s a movie that risks tempting the patience of the audience and I’m sure some weren’t into it, but the amount of critical acclaim the film got only proves how well made it really is.
*FULL REVIEW COMING SOON*
Amusement (Humour/Elation): LOW. Not even the Joker is funny.
Affection (Emotional Impact): LOW. It’s very plot driven, even some major deaths are there more as plot points.
Awe (Visual Impact): MODERATE. Grounded in the real world far more than previous Batman features (even Begins), visuals aren’t fantastical but fairly grand and well suited to the movie.
Applicability (Real World Resonance): HIGH. Really kind of capped off the 00s by making Joker into basically a terrorist, and asking us what depths we’d go to in order to stop him. (Or even survive him.)
Adrenaline (Excitement): HIGH. I continue to think that Christopher Nolan’s action scenes aren’t necessarily choreographed to be that interesting, like in Inception they thrill because the stakes are so high.
Anxiety (Suspense): EXTRAORDINARY. One of the movie’s biggest accomplishments is that it makes me think Batman of all people might not save the day.
Appreciation (Construction): EXTRAORDINARY. There’s like two movies worth of events in here and it all flows and keeps me engaged.
6. Evil Dead II
Evil Dead II is pure exuberance made manifest as a movie. A crazy fun haunted house ride, just about every shot and moment is inventive and demented in some way. If Bruce Campbell’s lines look to be badly rerecorded at times, I’m convinced it’s because his original dialogue couldn’t be heard over the sound of Sam Raimi giggling just out of frame. Everyone behind the camera feels psyched about getting to make a movie like Evil Dead II and it comes through in what we see onscreen.
For all the jump scares, camp, and gore that the film offers, it’s actually worth studying how the story is put together. It’s one of those very very rare movies I think manages to set a pitch of intensity at the highest level immediately, and sustain it until the credits roll. And Evil Dead II, though it’s set in one cabin, always finds a way to vary the character of every setpiece in a natural way. Every sequence offers something new and logically flows into what happens next. Ash sees his decapitated girlfriend roll out of the grave, her severed head attacks and bites his hand, his hand becomes possessed and tries to kill him so he has to hack it off, the severed hand starts causing problems, and on and on and on.
And like Jaws, it’s two movie in one. The first part is a one man show focused on Ash in the camera, and right before the point where that can no longer sustain itself, some new characters drop in. Mainly so we can get some new deaths and creature effects.
So if you want to take a look at how a movie can stay engaging from beginning to end, in all sincerity Evil Dead II can teach you a lot. And you can delve into how all the wacky creature effects and trick shots were achieved, but in the end we’re here to enjoy the the magic show. No other movie has this level of simultaneous horror and hilarity.
Affection (Emotional Impact): N/A
Awe (Visual Impact): N/A
Applicability (Real World Resonance): N/A
Appreciation (Construction): HIGH. It’s a lean mean 80 minutes that must have about twenty different demon encounters, and it never gets old.
Anxiety (Suspense): HIGH. The original Evil Dead was a pretty frightening premise and this is the same thing except played more for comedy, but disturbing/frightening elements are still in the sequel’s DNA.
Adrenaline (Excitement): EXTRAORDINARY. Suspenseful sequences and jump scares are usually followed by thrills, like any good haunted house.
Amusement (Humour/Elation): EXTRAORDINARY. Bruce Campbell pretty never had anything to prove after Evil Dead II, he’s so funny in this part.