13 December 2007

79. the producers

this movie was considered shocking and utterly daring when it first came out, but it has not aged particularly well. since then, we have had jim carrey talking out of his ass, cameron diaz glopping cum in her hair, and a high school virgin fucking a pie. so little is shocking anymore.

mel brooks' movies remind me of woody allen's a little: they are both old-school jewish comedians with a very "borscht-belt" sensibility. it is humor that is at once universal but also very particular. i find myself appreciating their craft, but mostly thinking i should laugh more than finding myself actually laughing.

a lot of people consider this film one of the funniest ever made. that's fine -- it has a very clever premise of "creative accounting" to make a flop, and then an even more clever payoff with "springtime for hitler". and it is executed well, with over-the-top performances from wilder, shawn, mars, and especially mostel.

this movie is on this list because it is written economically and structured classically, with a wide range of jokes, both visual and verbal. brooks obviously has his finger on the pulse of audiences, and it is impressive for anyone to have as their debut a movie that is now considered canonical.

12 December 2007

80. witness

here are some reasons this movie was such a hit and is considered so well-made:

* it concerns a theme mostly unexplored in other thrillers or action movies: the use of force. when is it justified to harm someone else? is killing always wrong? how do you separate the "good guys" from the "bad guys"?

* it envelopes us in a world at once foreign and familiar. we think we know about the amish, but this film immerses us into the particulars of this way of life, and never treats its subjects with condescension, showing their quiet grace, community, and unique sense of humor.

* it presents an action/thriller genre story, but does it with an eye towards the characters and their psychology, not just as an excuse for action set-pieces. in other words, it is a movie made for adults, not teenagers mindlessly munching on popcorn.

all that said, i didn't much care. i wasn't fully engaged with the movie, mostly because i found the music distracting (a very 80's-style synth score that i thought was much too cheesy), i found the villians too one-dimensional and cliched, and the love story mostly unearned. most glaringly wrong, however, is that the movie is about the tension between pacifism and force, but abandons this theme near the end for a shootout. and that, to me, is a microcosm of what is often wrong with mainstream hollywood films.