It's top ten time lately, and I thought about what would work best to fit in with what I do here. Just naming my favorites in any one category is may be redundant, because I'm always citing my favorites (and least favorites when I cover a topic. Instead, I thought it would be fun to come up with ten movies that I think anybody looking to make movies should not just have seen, but should study, dissect, and rewatch until it's something more than a movie. It's a process you understand and can learn from. So in only a vague order, I present ten movies to just go ahead and buy, if for some reason you don't have them already.
10. FLIRT - From director Hal Hartley, somebody who has still not received the attention he deserves. While my personal favorite of his is TRUST, this one serves best as something to teach a lesson. The same story, same script, is presented three times. Each time the city changes, the actors change, gender roles are reversed, mixed, etc. The words are the same, though. It illustrates how performances can change the tone or dynamic of a story while keeping true to the script, as can the setting, the style, and any host of other variables. As you see it on the page is not necessarily how it will be on screen, and the collaborative process can change things as you go. Knowing how powerful every element of a production can be is something to always be aware of.
9. ANIMAL HOUSE - The birth of the modern comedy. Besides opening the door to mainstream raunchiness, it was one of the first times a comedy was played broad and straight at the same time. The score never plays as silly, the actors play their characters straight if not quirky, the shots have a dramatic eye, but the situations, dialogue, and rhythm let the comedy come out. One of the reasons so many people can relate to it, despite how insane it gets, is because unlike comedy before it, it trusted the jokes to transcend the sense of reality needed to present the nostalgic college experience. You had to feel like you knew these guys, and not just watch a comedy but be pulled into it like you would a drama. No matter how many times you've seen it, go back and watch it as a coming of age drama instead, and how it plays. You may be surprised. Or not.
8. BATMAN & ROBIN - You're probably wondering why this is on the list. It's almost universally regarded as a terrible movie. Almost nothing was done right. Exactly. While some "bad" movies can be debated as good to some, start with this one then find other movies you dislike. Watch them a few times. Make notes about what you don't like. More importantly, pretend you're brought in to fix the movie. What would you have changed? It's easy to say "everything." It's a lot harder to write down literally every point, as well as a solution. If you do, you may just save yourself from mistakes you hadn't considered.
7. SHOWGIRLS - Like the last example, this is a bad movie. Unlike the last one, which was driven by incompetence or lack of passion for doing anything but cash a check r fulfill an obligation, this one I have long since believed was driven by a desire to make as bad a movie as possible. Verhoven commented when BASIC INSTINCT came out that he was proud to have taken a mediocre at best script and convert it into a tense and engaging thriller, and he hoped it would make him an A-list director. He was made A-list, but only because he was seen as the guy who could do sex and violence well. That's all he was offered. After some time, he commissioned Joe Eszterhas
6. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK - Like many of the movies on this list, it's well scripted, well structured, and complete as a story. They can serve as those examples. This film should show the fun of an action adventure. There are no giant buildings exploding, or CGI car chases, or anything that took ten quickly spliced shots for one event. Everything is crafted instead of compiled, and the danger of the moment is kept real even when small. Look at some of the smaller tense moments and compare them to the big budget summer flicks of today.
5. GHOSTBUSTERS - A variation of "The Hero's Journey." Our protagonists show skills of their later calling in an undeveloped form. They are shunned, exiled, and venture off on their own. Act one ends with them questioning their calling. Act two begins as they develop their skills, find that they may be the only ones able to protect the people from an ultimate threat that looms on the horizon. They achieve notoriety, but not without detractors. Act three is where they are tested. Their courage, their skills, their belief in what they do, and their dedication to complete their mission, even it means sacrificing themselves to save the people. It's a template that has been used in fiction throughout history, but now it's usually used for otherworldly adventures. Set in New York and coated in humor, it's the backbone of a great story. It's act structure perfectly defined. It's little journeys that advance the whole. It's hard to find a better example that doesn't make people think if swords and sorcery. Of course, if you really think about the proton packs...
4. TRIUMPH OF THE WILL - Probably a controversial choice, as it's a Nazi propaganda film, but if you watch it with the sound off and just take in the visuals, see how many shots you recognize from other films. THE LION KING borrowed heavily from it, as did STARSHIP TROOPERS, as did, well, that's your homework. It used a photographic eye to manipulate the response from the viewer, to generate a feeling of nationalism, pride, solidarity, and it developed techniques that are still emulated today. Consider it with a historic perspective, and keep the history of the world and the history of film separate.
3. ADAPTATION - Charlie Kaufman is one of the most intelligent and original writers working today. Everything he does is worth considering, but this film, his take on McKee's STORY, is the one you should know at least as well as STORY itself. McKee's book is considered practically scripture amongst much of Hollywood as the way to build a narrative. While it certainly has excellent things to consider, as this film addresses, it is sometimes followed too absolutely. ADAPTATION shows where many of the standard elements don't quite work, as evidenced by the last act. See if you can figure out where the narrative voice shifts, then the why, then the how.
2. BACK TO THE FUTURE - Classes are taught on this movie's script. It's often cited as being the perfection of the blockbuster formula. It has inspired many of today's top writers. Watch the movie a few more time, but also read the text version. Every scene informs us of relevant plot information, moving character, plot, and / or location forward. Act three payoffs are sprinkled into the detail throughout so you don't see all of the loose threads until they come together. The massive chaos and excitement of the finale is a credit to how the rest of the film forwardly builds and organizes. When you think your ending will come to you eventually, watch this movie and rethink your process.
1. CITIZEN KANE - This is a no brainer, right? Everybody puts this movie on the top of their lists, and everyone who thinks they know film can tell you about how it originally failed, and Orson Welles was a tragic genius through his life in movies, and it's a thinly veiled take n William Randolph Hearst, but not a lick of that film snobbery is in the movie itself. Talk to me about how Welles broke free from traditional camera placement and movement. Let's go over using style to skew emotional reaction from us. Let's think about the narrative structure. This movie is vital to know on a technical and historical level because of how it broke so many rules when it was made, and has now become the source of so many rules for how things are done today. Welles understood the medium in a way that allowed him to give it a redefining jolt, and separate film from stage in an exciting way.
I know there are plenty more, and there can be some debate about my reasons for what is on here, but that's the nature of these lists. The important thing is to watch every movie and try and learn a little something to take with you for when it's your turn. Or you could just buy up the rights to a bunch of video games and find some nice tax incentives. There are lots of ways to make it in movies.
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Patrick hails from Baltimore, MD, where playing by the rules is frowned upon. Only average things come from playing it safe.|
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