Hitch your -cock to a star

Following in the footsteps of fellow movie blogger Silents and Talkies, I thought about my top 20 movies by Alfred Hitchcock. He’s one of my favorite directors because he had such fun making us watch him toy with us and share his obsessions. He was one of the big star directors, and one of the few whose films that average moviegoers would eagerly anticipate. He had a few misses, and was best when he dealt with subjects dear to his heart like the oppressive incompetence of authority and the suspense of the unknown.

1. Strangers on a Train
2. North by Northwest
3. Shadow of a Doubt
4. The 39 Steps
5. The Birds
6. The Trouble with Harry
7. Rear Window
8. Psycho
9. Vertigo
10. Rope
11. Suspicion
12. Frenzy
13. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
14. Rebecca
15. Notorious
16. Lifeboat
17. Secret Agent
18. The Wrong Man
19. “Lamb to the Slaughter”
20. Saboteur

Conspicuously absent: The Lady Vanishes. By the end of the movie I wished it was Throw Momma from the Train. To Catch a Thief- more like to catch a few Z’s. Spellbound has lovely visuals but is rather tepid.

I love The Trouble with Harry and its dry morbid humor, but my all time favorite is of course, Strangers on a Train. Cris-cross! I wish he’d directed more Patricia Highsmith stories, especially The Talented Mr. Ripley, but he wouldn’t have gotten the asexuality of a sociopath correct. The first ten are among my favorite movies, period. I don’t know of another director who’s made TEN movies I can watch again and again, other than Hitch. I still haven’t seen many classics- The Lodger, Marnie, the first Man Who Knew Too Much, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Stage Fright, and more- but I look forward to every one of them.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

one hell of a decade

When I looked over my IMDb ratings to find my favorite movies of the decade, my first list had 86 entries. I don’t like “top tens” but 86 is a bit much. So these are the movies I found most important or most cherished by me, trimmed from that to a more digestible number. Another blogger had 58 so I decided on 69, dude! In no particular order except a little alphabetical.
1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
2. There Will Be Blood
3. No Country for Old Men
4. The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara
5. Superbad
6. The Incredibles
7. Spirited Away
8. The Royal Tenenbaums
9. Children of Men
10. Kill Bill, Vol.1 and 2
11. Closer
12. Amelie
13. Pan’s Labyrinth
14. In Bruges
15. The Bourne Trilogy
16. Oldboy
17. Cache
18. Juno
19. Irreversible
20. Knocked Up
21. The Wrestler
22. Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War
23. The Descent
24. Tropic Thunder
25. Punch-Drunk Love
26. Borat
27. City of God
28. The Orphanage
29. The Dark Knight
30. The Lives of Others
31. Downfall
32. Eastern Promises
33. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
34. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
35. Far From Heaven
36. Hot Fuzz
37. Happy-Go-Lucky
38. Kung Fu Hustle
39. The Triplets of Belleville
40. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
41. Michael Clayton
42. Mulholland Dr.
43. WALL-E
44. Shotgun Stories
45. Snatch.
46. Sexy Beast
47. Spider-Man
48. Standard Operating Procedure
49. Role Models
50. The Departed
51. The Wind That Shakes the Barley
52. Sicko
53. Traffic
54. Miami Vice
55. United 93
56. Watchmen
57. The Black Book
58. The 25th Hour
59. 28 Days Later…
60. Apocalypto
61. Dirty Pretty Things
62. George Washington
63. Layer Cake
64. Lost in Translation
65. Man on Wire
66. The Fall
67. The Prestige
68. Let the Right One In
69. Zodiac

I’m sure I missed many great films last decade (or this decade if you follow proper mathematics) and I had to leave many excellent films out. I think it was better than the ’90s due to that decade having a weak start, but 1999 remains one of the best years for film.

1999 was better

My best of the year in no particular order:

1. Up in the Air
2. Up
3. Watchmen
4. (500) Days of Summer
5. Inglourious Basterds
6. Public Enemies
7. District 9
8. I Love You, Man
9. An Education
10. Two Lovers

I also enjoyed:
The Answer Man
Dead Snow – Nazi zombies!
Star Trek
The Men Who Stare at Goats
Eastbound & Down” on HBO
Crank: High Voltage
Observe and Report
Midgets vs. Mascots
Will Ferrell’s “You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush
Where the Wild Things Are
Drag Me to Hell
Trick ‘r Treat

Funny People
The Hangover

The Soloist
Megashark vs. Giant Octopus
Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Worst of 2009:
The Haunting in Connecticut

Ten Favorite Movie Characters Meme

I didn’t get tagged in this because I smell and have no friends, but I’m doing it anyway. These are in no particular order because this isn’t MySpace.

10. Ripley

Sigourney Weaver owned this role even in Alien, long before she hopped in a powerloader and growled, “Get away from her, you bitch!” In fact, as great as she is in Aliens, Ripley is a more appealing character in the first one. She’s resourceful but still emotional, and while she’s a tall drink of water she’d still be easy on the eyes, especially after hypersleep. She can handle a flamethrower in a pinch, and doesn’t mind blowing up billion dollar star freighters to get the job done. My management style is based on Ripley.

9. Elwood P. Dowd
Sure, he’s best friends with a six foot invisible rabbit named Harvey, but Elwood is just an all around nice guy. Always ready for a drink, he’s as friendly as they come, and realizes it’s better to be pleasant than clever in the long run. You can be pleasant about being clever; no one cares how clever you are, but how pleasant you are makes a big difference in how you get along. That’s Elwood’s lesson, and it’s a good one.

8. Thulsa Doom
You gotta have a villain in here somewhere. This was a tough one, because he’s not really all that charismatic. Hannibal Lecter is an easy one to pick; you never think he’d find YOU rude and eat your thymus glands in brown butter, do you? But Clarice Starling is the only person who’s safe from his fork. With Thulsa, you know where you stand. Either you worship him, or you are an infidel defiler who will drown in lakes of blood. I’d rather know if I’m going to drown in a lake of blood up front. He’s great even when Conan the Barbarian cuts his head off and throws it down the stairs.

7. John Matrix
The greatest action hero of all time. Yep, even though he was only in Commando. He’s smart, he’s strong, he never misses, and he can jam a steam pipe through your fake chain mail sweater and out your spine. And deliver snappy one-liners the entire time! As long as you’re not a mercenary tough or a mall cop, or get in his way of rescuing “Chenny,” he’ll be on your side. Right? … RIGHT!

6. Indiana Jones
I have to admit, even after the crappy fourth movie, Indy will always be great. He’s unstoppable, he has unshakeable moral foundations, and he’s cool even when he’s bumbling. What makes Indy so great? When hes about to do something crazy, he looks scared. He’s as incredulous as we are when he jumps on the front of a truck. But he does it, because it must be done! It helps that he’s afraid of snakes. It makes him human. John Matrix would bite the head off that snake and make a garrote out of it.

5. Otto
Kevin Kline is one of the funniest guys around, but after the excellent Dave I think he got a little soft. When he was a jerk, he was even funnier. Otto of A Fish Called Wanda is one of the greatest inept villains of all time- a true vulgarian who thinks central tenet of Buddhism is “every man for himself,” who’s not afraid to sneak a gun into an airport or try unprepared sushi. He really made this movie, and he had a lot of talented company.

4. MacReady
Why this Kurt Russell role over Snake Plissken, the ultimate badass? Because he’s a regular guy who saves humanity when thrust into impossible circumstances against an otherworldly foe. You can see a bit of Snake in this character but he’s always believable, and like all heroes, he’s afraid of what he has to do, but he does it anyway. When he’s not saving the world he just wants to fly his chopper and smoke dope in his shed.

3. Bart
As a relatively unknown actor, how do you walk into a role written by and for Richard Pryor, the biggest black comedian of the time? Ask Cleavon Little. It amazed me that his career fizzled after Blazing Saddles, he was so entertaining. He had small roles as DJs in FM and Vanishing Point but never one as big as this. Bart is funny, cool, yet has just enough self-doubt to be a likeable guy. He can fool the man with shuck ‘n jive, seduce Lili Von Schtupp, and even talk the Waco Kid out of drinking himself to death. Just remember than 19 is his limit on schnitzengruben. Bitte, baby.

2. George & Marion Kerby
A high school pal of mine was obsessed with Topper but it took many years for me to watch it and see what the big deal was. Cary Grant has always been the perfect gentleman, but it’s tough to pick one role. I’m not sure I’d want to be haunted by this couple, but I’d rather party with them than Nick & Nora Charles any day.

1. Helen Tasker
This was a tough one. I went through all the women characters of cinema who made me feel like a naughty little boy, from Linda Fiorentino and Kathleen Turner’s femme fatales to bubbly Geena Davis, Marlena Dietrich and Rita Hayworth… and it came down to, who could I live with? Most of them would probably kill me for my cash, but Helen was a faithful wife who wanted a little excitement. And when it came time to serve her country, she did a hell of a striptease, and bashed someone’s head in with a phone. Plus, I had a crush on her since Trading Places. I guess it says a lot that in True Lies I’m ogling a funny redhead with some meat on her bones when Tia Carrera is in it.

Top 10

Barking Mad has gone quite so. They’ve got a contest for a $250 Target gift card, if you post your Top 5 or 10 favorite posts, and link back to them while doing so. Just imagine all the Fiesta ware you could buy? Want to re-enact Jeffrey Tambor’s scene from …And Justice for All? Go nuts! I could use a new rug, it’s sorta like Ford’s towel from Hitchhiker’s Guide right now- stained with everything from food, beer, catnip and cat hairballs that it should probably be burned.

As a loquacious writerer, whose mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative bloggery, what are my top 10 favorite posts of the last year & change?

10. Best Animated Feature
9. The Jason Bourne Movies
8. Fallen vs. Harlan Ellison’s Mefisto in Onyx
7. Forgotten Vinyl: KISS’s “Music from the Elder”
6. Conan, the Cimmerian
5. Spielberg and Lucas have lost their fucking minds
4. Andrew Vachss: Warrior, Author, Lawyer
3. Big Bald Black Men I Admire, in which I claim Stephen King has never met a black person
2. 80’s Trash of the Week: Masters of the Universe
1. A Tribute to Tony Maffatone – My “uncle” was a fight choreographer, weapons consultant and sometimes stuntman.

2008 Retrospective

Top ten lists suck. Movies can be so different, yet so enjoyable, that it can be difficult to compare them against one another. For example, one of my favorite cinema experiences this year was Role Models, but is it really one of the top 10 movies of 2008? Then again, who the hell am I to think that this blog post is a monument in history, and by leaving out Frost/Nixon I’m upsetting the balance of the universe?

Here are the movies I enjoyed most in 2008. This means they can be the pinnacle of their own genre. That’s why something twee like Son of Rambow or brutal like Rambo can beat out The Curious Case of Benji’s Mean Buttin’.

10. The Fall
Probably the most gorgeous visuals of 2008, other than Wall-E. A injured stuntman (Lee Pace) tells tall tales to a little girl in the hospital, but not just to befriend her. The fantasies he constructs reminded me of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and the story itself is engaging enough to make it more than eye candy. A sleeper of the year.

9. Milk
Sure, Sean Penn’s performance is incredible. But let’s not give James Franco, Emil Hirsch and Josh Brolin short shrift! Even Diego Luna is good as a drama queen. But beyondf the acting, this is one of Gus Van Sant’s best- he brings us to ’70s San Francisco as deftly as David Fincher did in Zodiac, he captures the feel of the era and makes an engaging biopic out of a political life. And he doesn’t make any pointers to Prop 8 like another hamfisted director might (cough, Oliver Stone).

8. Rambo
Best pure action picture of 2008, one of the most bloody and brutal of the genre, and a fitting end to the John Rambo story (if it’s over). A return to the roots of First Blood and Stallone doing what he does best- staring and killing.

7. Son of Rambow
This is listed as a 2007 film in IMDb but it only got theatrical release in the U.S. this year. So I’m counting it. It’s a delightful childhood fantasy about kids making their own sequel to First Blood, back in the early 80s, in small town England. Great characters, great story. If you liked Big Fish but don’t like Tim Burton’s mopey goth bullshit, this is infused with that childlike sense of wonder, some emotional dashes of reality and no smarm, and none of Timboy’s hangups.

6. In Bruges
The dark comedy sleeper of the year, this is an utterly fantastic hit-man thriller comedy from Martin McDonagh. Colin Farrel redeems himself as an actor after S.W.A.T., and his eyebrows deserve the Academy Award. I warn you, the comedy is fiercely gallows-esque, but everything happens as it must. It’s on DVD, rent it now.

5. Happy-Go-Lucky
Mike Leigh’s newest is a character study at heart, with Poppy’s indefatigable cheer, her roomie Zoe’s unfazeable calm and driving instructor Scott’s fierce armor of seething rage. But we see through the chinks of that armor, and see something nailed down and in torment (thanks to Gerald Kersh for that great line). Sally Hawkins won the Globe for best comedic actress and hopefully she’ll get a nom at the Oscars, or Eddie Marsan will get supporting, but I think this film will be sadly overlooked. Don’t make that mistake yourself.

4. Slumdog Millionaire
It’s as good as everyone says it is. Go see it. It’s an uplifting experience, and an eye-opening look into Mumbai. Solid acting, and few subtitles if you care about that. Different, exuberant, and an emotional thrill ride. Danny Boyle’s best in years.

3. The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan transcends the comic book genre with this excellent thriller that reminded me of the best of the Batman Animated Series remade for adults. Heath Ledger gave an incredible performance as we all know, but the secondary characters played by Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart and Michael Caine fill in the cracks in reality that form when we watch an eccentric billionaire dress up to fight an insane terrorist in clown make-up. The film is built more like a labyrinthine criminal takedown procedural by Michael Mann, and gripping throughout. I missed it in IMAX, to my enduring shame.

2. The Wrestler
The best drama of the year, and Mickey Rourke’s return to fame. Even if you don’t like wrestling, and think it’s stupid, this is a great movie and deserves you give it a shot. Aronofsky is one of the best directors working today.

1. Wall-E
The best film of 2008. First, it looks stunning- you don’t even know it’s CG until the little cockroach shows up. Secondly Wall-E may be a robot, but he’s one of the best characters this year; and his simple love story, set against the backdrop of a hilarious satire on the future of human expansion (pun intended) hits us smack in the gut to play our heartstrings like a certain Marx Brother on a harp in the middle of a terrific comedy. If you haven’t seen it, this isn’t “just” a kid’s film, it’s Brazil done by Chaplin, and one of the most refreshing science fiction stories in a good while.

Yet to see: Doubt, Choke, Good, Synecdoche, New York, Towelhead, W., Miracle at St. Anna, Australia, Waltz with Bashir, Encounters at the Edge of the World, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Shotgun Stories; I was gonna wait until I saw them all, but the Oscar noms come out tomorrow so I want this here first. Then I can make my predictions, and what I think deserves it- which are almost always at odds.


Standard Operating Procedure – The most important documentary of the year, about Abu Ghraib; Frost/Nixon for real, he gets confessions you won’t believe. No one wants to hear about Iraq anymore, but if you care about this country’s name being dragged in the mud, you should see this film so this doesn’t happen again.

Man on Wire – Excellent doc about Phillippe Petit, who tightroped between the Twin Towers.

Foreign Films:
Let the Right One In – Coming of age movie and vampire tale that throws away Anne Rice’s horrible influence on the genre, and makes us frightened of them again. Incredible.

Tell No One – Excellent thriller based on Harlan Coben’s novel, moved to Paris. The Fugitive with more thrills and twists.

Honorable Mentions (worth seeing):

The Reader
– fine performances in a somewhat overlong and convoluted telling of a strong story about guilt, shame, and the eagerness to go along that makes those who stand up even more extraordinary.

The Visitor – Emotionally powerful indie by the director of The Station Agent, about a withdrawn, widowed professor who gets attached to a couple he finds squatting in his New York apartment. A touching and heartfelt film that shouldn’t be overlooked; if a big name played the prof, this would be huge.

Religulous – Bill Maher shows us the religious who border on crazy and makes fun of them.

Defiance – A fine WW2 story we’ve not heard before. Old-fashioned good movie.

RocknRolla – Guy Ritchie does his thing again, good fun but takes a long time to warm up.

Rachel Getting Married – Fine drama by Jonathan Demme, Anne Hathaway gives an excellent performance, but it is a bit indulgent in the overlong wedding scenes.

Role Models – Funniest comedy of the year.

Iron Man – Probably the most fun I had in a theater. Great action, and Robert Downey Jr. embodies the part and makes Tony Stark his own. Gwyneth Paltrow is delightful as Pepper Potts and isn’t just arm candy. Jon Favreau did a great job directing, and I’m sad Terence Howard won’t be returning as War Machine. Hopefully the inevitable sequel will live up to this.

Gran Torino– Clint Eastwood’s performance will be remembered as one of his best, and it’s a solid story that gives us insight into a culture not many people know about.

Revolutionary Road – great acting, but this is American Beauty: The ’50s.

Frost/Nixon – Great performances but a bit sketchy inbetween the interview parts.

Be Kind Rewind – Overlooked cute and quirky comedy by Michel Gondry with Jack Black and Mos Def.

Kung Fu Panda – One of Dreamworks best- a classic old kung fu movie done for kids with a great voice cast a funny script. Better than expected.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall – Very funny Apatow gang film with new guy to watch, Jason Segel.
The Bank Job – Solid British heist film.
Pineapple Express – Terence Malick makes a stoner action comedy.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno – Kevin Smith does Apatow; not his best but lots of laughs.
Tropic Thunder – Very funny, Robert Downey Jr.’s second hit of the year. Tom Cruise? yawn.
Quantum of Solace – Too short but a fine Bond film.
The Ruins – Survival horror in Yucatan; very effective.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army – Beautiful and strange; great comic book adaptation.
Get Smart – Solid movie version of the classic series.
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay – Funnier than the original? Maybe.
Doomsday – Modern homage to postapocalyptica with Rhona Mitra as the new action heroine.
Where in the World is Osama bin Laden – Another good doc by Spurlock.
Young People Fucking – a very funny Canadian sex comedy about 3 couples and their sex lives.
The Wackness- Nice coming of age story about a pot dealer in 1994.
The Foot Fist Way – Danny McBride plays a small-town Tae Kwon Do instructor trying to get his idol to perform at his school. If you liked him in Hot Rod you’ll love this. It’s all cruel, sick humor, so it’s not for everyone.

Abominable Mentions (view at your own risk):

Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Aliens from Close Encounters – Need I say more?
The Crappening – I didn’t review this because so many had eviscerated it that I felt I couldn’t possibly add anything useful. It’s a heavy-handed ’50s sci-fi that isn’t very scary.
The Strangers – Dumb people get killed.
Get Smart’s Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control – Cash in or TV pilot. Yawn.
Death Race – Paul W.S. Anderson continues to make forgettable crap.

A New Year’s Toast to Mediocrity:
Burn After Reading – Fargo in D.C.
Slacker Uprising – A Private History of a Voting Campaign That Failed
The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor – Better than 2 not as good as 1
The Incredible Hulk – Everything but super-serum Blonsky is forgettable.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Forrest Gump 2
Vicky Cristina Barcelona – Woody coasting with a good cast.
Speed Racer – Longer than several seasons of the cartoon.