Friday, December 14, 2007

Citizen Kane and Apocalypse Now

I gathered up my birthday money and registered for a seminar on The Aesthetics of Editing. It is enlivening to get inspiration from new sources. I thought I was critically evaluating movies. But, now it seems I was only giving them a cursory glance. The good news is that beginning with the first wedding movie we edited, we've intuitively edited according to the five basic criteria for excellent editing. We just didn't know it.

How should a movie be judged? By the story and message? By the the art and style? By its influence on other movies?

I decided to go back and look at the Top 25 movies ever made with a more critical eye. But, which Top 25? Who says they are the Top 25? The American Film Institute has one of the most popular lists of the Top 100 Movies. But they are all produced by, well, Americans. Here is the AFI List of the Top 25 Movies. No surprises here. Movies we've all heard of and seen.

AFI Top 25
1. Citizen Kane (1941)*
2. Casablanca (1942)
3. The Godfather (1972)*
4. Gone With The Wind (1939)
5. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
6. The Wizard of Oz (1939)*
7. The Graduate (1967)
8. On The Waterfront (1954)
9. Schindler's List (1993)
10. Singin' In The Rain (1952)
11. It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
12. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
13. The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)
14. Some Like It Hot (1959)*
15. Star Wars (1977)
16. All About Eve (1950)*
17. The African Queen (1951)
18. Psycho (1960)
19. Chinatown (1974)*
20. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
21. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
22. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)*
23. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
24. Raging Bull (1980)*
25. E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the Top 100 Maverick Movies broaden the horizon, but it's still an American horizon. Here are Rolling Stone's Top 25. The movies listed under the AFI with an asterisk were also in Rolling Stone's Top 25 list.

Rolling Stone Magazine's Top 25
2. Vertigo (1958)
3. The Searchers (1956)
8. Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
9. Blue Velvet (1986)
10. Pulp Fiction (1994)
11. King Kong (1933)
12. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
13. Fargo (1996)
15. Do The Right Thing (1989)
16. Night of the Hunter (1955)
17. Sherlock, Jr (1924)
19. Nashville (1975)
21. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
22. Brazil (1985)
23. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
24. Badlands (1973)
25. Don't Look Now (1973)

Why not widen the list to include foreign films? But once again, whose list do you look at? The British Film Institute, the Online Film Community, winners at the Cannes Film Festival? It's hard to say, so here is an amalgam of all three. For a wonderfully complete list, check out the movie critic Roger Ebert's list.

Top 25 Foreign Films
Australian - Strictly Ballroom (1992)
British - The Third Man (1949)
Chinese - Curse of the Golden Flower (2006); Farewell My Concubine (1993); Raise the Red Lantern (1991)
French - 400 Blows (1959), Amelie (2001), Beauty and the Beast (1946), Breathless (1960), Earrings of Madame de... (1953), Rules of the Game (1939)
German - Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), M (1931), Nosferatu (1922), Run Lola Run (1998), Wings of Desire (1988)
Italian - The Bicycle Thief (1948); Amarcord (1974); Cinema Paradiso (1989); The Leopard (1963)
Japanese - Rashomon (1950), Ran (1985), Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)
Russian - Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Swedish - Seventh Seal (1957)
Vietnamese - Scent of Green Papaya (1993)

Finally, here are some of my personal favorites not mentioned on any other list. Each is my favorite because the combination of artistry (acting and cinematography) and storytelling created an unforgettable impact the first time I saw it, which has stayed with me, and continues to effect me the same way every time I see it.

Jewel's Top 25 Not Previously Mentioned Films
A Christmas Carol (1951)
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)
Amadeus (1984)
Body Heat (1981)
Color Purple (1985)
Crash (2005)
Das Boot (1981)
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Excalibur (1981)
Gods Must be Crazy (1980)
Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955)
High and Low (1963)
Joy Luck Club (1993)
L.A. Confidential (1997)
Legends of the Fall (1994)
Like Water for Chocolate (1992)
Lone Star (1996)
The Natural (1984)
Out of Africa (1985)
Scotland, PA (2001)
Seabiscuit (2003)
To Catch a Thief (1955)
Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Witness (1985)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Best Movies of 2007

So why do they always cram the releases of the best movies of the year into the last 14 days of the year? Yes of course - to be fresh in the minds of those who make Oscar nominations.

What are my criteria for Best Movie? First, it tells a compelling story, engages you and holds your interest. You never once look at your watch until the ending credits start to roll. It makes you care about characters whom you've never met. It entertains, informs, or moves you emotionally. It can change the way you live your life.

Second, the technical qualities of the film are excellent. And they do not call attention to themselves. At its best, the color palette conveys emotion (whether ethereal blue, parched desert or super-saturated warm tones). The soundtrack is richly layered with voices, sounds and music which subtly convey a mood. The images are ordered in an interesting way. The editing is tight - not one frame more than is needed to tell the story. The pace helps create the emotion whether you feel fidgety because time is hanging heavy or because you are breathlessly running from danger.

So, there are a big bunch of movies I want to see soon, and will update my Best Movies of 2007 list as we see them. So far...

Best Movies of 2007
Atonement - Keira Knightley, James MacAvoy
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead - Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Eastern Promises - Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts
Great Debaters - Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker
Michael Clayton - George Clooney
Nanny Diaries - Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney
No Country for Old Men - Tommy Lee Jones
Rendition - Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon
Stardust - Michelle Pfeiffer, Clare Danes

Movies I Want to See
Away from Her
Diving Bell and Butterfly
Golden Compass - Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig
In the Shadow of the Moon
Kite Runner
Lives of Others
Love in the Time of Cholera
Lust, Caution

Christmas in San Francisco

Dear Diary,
When the end of wedding season comes and our colleagues in other categories return to their families and a normal life, we are just kicking it into high gear to deliver wedding movies by Christmas Eve, yet without sacrificing quality. But, let me take a short break and tell you what's new.

The holiday season started the day after Thanksgiving. Chris and Anna Williams (Anna, of McCall's Catering fame, invited us to attend a party at a 100,000 square foot Barrango showroom in South San Francisco showroom where fabulous Christmas displays are created ( I went with my friends Stacie Tamaki of The Flirty Guide ( and Edward Bellingeri (, a very talented floral and visual designer. We saw Morgan Doan of Events by Morgan, Neil Adams of Neil Adams Events, Isabella Boyer Sikaffy of Florabella, and so many more fun friends. But the 50' tall creations stole the show. They had dozens of animated creatures, beautifully restored carousel horses, 50' Christmas trees, and a winter wonderland of frozen delights.

Chuck and I went to see San Jose Repertory Theater's show This Wonderful Life. It is a one-man show interpreting It's a Wonderful Life. Yes, we wondered too, how one person could portray the scene where George and Mary fall into the high school swimming pool, or put their ears together to hear Sam Wainwright on the phone. But, amazingly, this guy played all the parts simultaneously and very believably. It definitely put us in a Christmas mood.