The Spin’s Top 40 Sci-fi Films of All Time

LEPRECHAUN-IN-SPACE

Well, those ever-expanding genre polls over at Wonders in the Dark continue…and next on their docket is the Top Sci-fi films.  Below is the list I submitted, and in the coming weeks and months they will be unveiling their list after all the votes are tabulated.  I went with a fairly liberal definition for sci-fi, hence some genre-bending monster and horror films made the cut (but alas, no Leprechaun in Space!).  Also making the cut are films like Being John Malkovich, as I saw in the film a “scientific” explanation for how people were able to enter the head of John Malkovich…an unnerving “fiction” for sure!

Sci-fi films from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s (along with Universal Monster movies from the 30’s) ruled my childhood as they were shown in endless loops on local television on the weekends…so there are many sentimental favorites here.  The list topper, from one Stanley Kubrick, should come as no surprise for my readers, as it is also a film I routinely name in my revolving Top Five Films of All Time.  Coming in at number 2, might surprise some, as it’s also a Universal Monster classic…James Whale’s Frankenstein, a great film based on Mary Shelley’s trailblazing sci-fi-by-way-of-parental-wish-fulfillment-nightmare gothic novel.

The best science fiction films typically tap into some disturbed psychology and common fears…hence its natural and seamless blend with horror (see Alien).  Satire, both gentle and militant, mixed with science fiction can also be potent (see the works of Jonze and Verhoeven and Miller).  At its most noble, science fiction allows us to dream bigger dreams (see the best of Spielberg and Nolan).

I’ll let the rest of the list below speak for itself – links provided to more detailed write-ups and reviews of applicable films provided by clicking the title. Continue reading

The Night of the Hunter and The Tree of Life Essays for Wonders in the Dark

I recently had two essays published on Wonders in the Dark as part of their monumental Countdown on the Top Films about Childhood where I put fresh eyes on two beloved films, The Tree of Life and The Night of the Hunter.  Readers might recall I published the ballot I submitted to WitD not too long ago.  And while my personal rankings and choices might differ from the final results after all was tabulated…these two fine films still made the cut as follows:

The Tree of Life - Submerged

Coming in at #38 was The Tree of Life and here’s an excerpt of what I had to say at WitD:

And by weaving the life of an ordinary family (and the childhood of an ordinary man) into the grand story of the cosmos, Malick shows that every life is as insignificant and as a monumental as we want it to be.  We provide meaning to what we want to provide meaning to.  If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it make a sound?  Our observing of a thing gives it meaning, changes its definition.  For a film where characters frequently talk to their god in one-sided prayer, Malick’s thesis points to both the meaning and meaningless of it all.  We answer our own prayers.

Click here for the full essay and to join the conversation.

Night of the Hunter 2

Coming it at #6 was The Night of the Hunter and here’s an excerpt of what I had to say at WitD:

The singer in the opening of Charles Laughton’s 1955 classic The Night of the Hunter invites viewers to dream along with its young protagonist, John Harper (Billy Chapin), but what transpires in the film is a pure nightmare where religious fanaticism begs us to treat everyone like children and envision a world where everyone is fair game for evil.  He’s just a poor kid whose dad was just hung for murder (but not before entrusting his son to hide his stash of money), whose mother (Shelly Winters) is helpless, and whose little sister, Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce), needs minding.  Into his life steps the world’s most vile step-father, Harry Powell (the magnificently monstrous Robert Mitchum) – a widow-killer and money-hungry would-be preacher who wows the simpletons of the small towns he invades with his fire-and-brimstone rhetoric.  But John is on to him from the get-go (he knows this jack-ass just wants the cash), and John rails against the man and his worldview.

Click here for the full essay and to join the conversation.

Written by David H. Schleicher

This War Has Put an End to Decent Things

Hope and Glory Title Photo

For many, childhood is a war: a battle of wills with adults, a rage against growing up, a fight against awakening into the violent world of adulthood.  It’s not surprising then that many of the greatest films about childhood and coming of age take place against the backdrop of actual wars.  Three of the top five films in my list of the 41 greatest films about childhood involve war and how children and adults learn to deal with it in different ways.  Many of the films on this list (including the film at number one) are no doubt sentimental favorites (arguments could easily be made there are grander artistic achievements further down the list).  It should come as no surprise that these sentimental favorites were first seen in childhood and that many of the films come from directors delving deep into the wellspring of nostalgia and semi-autobiography; those indelible moments from our shared childhoods crystalized onto the silver screen.

I was about the same age as the protagonist, Billy Rohan, when I first saw John Boorman’s Hope and Glory.  I loved every bit of it, and even at that young age I knew there was something unique about its point of view.  It painted war as how I imagined I (as a child at the time) would’ve reacted to it: a blast of excitement in an otherwise mundane suburban life previously populated by games and make-believe.  Here my soldiers and toys had come to life, dirigibles suspended in air over my streets, German bombers flying overhead, danger and adventure lying in the rubble of my neighbors demolished homes.  The juxtaposition of adult horrors and children’s games (a juxtaposition dealt with far more seriously and catastrophically in films like Forbidden Games and Come and See) resulted in a picture of scrappy, working-glass survivors striving for a sense of normalcy and return to innocence in a world gone stark raving mad.  Continue reading

Fargo Voted #51 in Wonders in the Dark’s Top Comedies Poll

Heck D’ya Mean! Fargo only placed 51st?

A few months back I was asked to participate in the Top Comedy Films of All Time polling at the world’s premier independently run film blog, Wonders in the Dark.  While Fargo placed far higher on my own list, it finished 51st in the official polling.  I then had the pleasure of being asked to provide an essay extolling the many virtues of Fargo, which apart from being such an ingenious dark comedy, is one of my personal favorite films – a state of mind I find myself returning to at least once a year.  Apparently I’ll never get enough of those accents.

Here’s an excerpt from my essay –

But it’s those small moments that make it undeniably funny – Marge’s interview of the goofy gum-smacking truck-stop hookers, the idiotic zombified niceness of the cashier at the diner where Jerry convinces his father-in-law to pay a ransom on a kidnapping Jerry arranged, and the complete disinterest of the call girl Carl tries to impress by taking her to the Carlton Celebrity Room to see Jose Feliciano.
 
The Coens also displayed a hilarious knack for sucking the seriousness out of dire situations, like when Jerry tries to comfort his son Scotty after Scotty’s mother is kidnapped and on the back of the kid’s bedroom door is a poster for “The Accordion King” – a fat smiling idiot in the Alps looking down on this hot mess in the Twin Cities.

Click here to read the full essay at Wonders in the Dark and to join the debate about whether Fargo is a comedy at all.

The Spin’s Top 60 Comedies of All Time

“You put WHAT on your top comedy list?”

I was recently asked by the film blogger extraordinaires at Wonders in the Dark to submit a ballot for the Top 60 Comedies of All-Time in preparation for their next feature which will tabulate the ballots and produce a definitive list later in the summer.  At first I found the task daunting – as many will remember guest-blogger Nicky D’s hotly contested and wildly popular Top 47 Comedies of All-Time that graced The Spin not so long ago.  For me, comedy is the most subjective and generational-based of genres – and it’s hard to judge films on personal tastes in humor.  However, the always generous Sam Juliano at WitD invited balloters to adopt an “anything goes” policy – meaning – if it’s a comedy to you! – put it on the list.  This opened up the door for me to include some of my favorite accidental comedies as well as satires and dark comedies that many would judge as dramas.  One will see my love for the darker side of comedy in this list, as well as my love for Woody Allen and those rascally kids that had me in stitches when I was a kid – yup – short films are allowed – hence the love for Our Gang.  At any rate…let the debate that started with Nicky D’s list continue as  I present to you my official rebuttal and ballot for the Wonders in the Dark polling.  I will provide no additional commentary and let the list speak for itself… Continue reading

The Red Riding Trilogy

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…all good children go to heaven.”

You wouldn’t believe it at the start of the grim trilogy of films that aired on British television in 2009 and were released in art-houses stateside in early 2010 (and new to DVD this month).  Spanning almost a decade (from 1974 to 1983) and following a labyrinthine plot involving missing children, serial killers, conspiracy theories and corrupt police officers in northern Britain’s Yorkshire area, The Red Riding Trilogy is hard-hitting, trippy, convoluted stuff…the stuff of communal M-like nightmares.

The first thing that is so striking about the films is their look – dripping in period detail and directorial chutzpah that’s like Godfather-era Francis Ford Coppola as channeled through Danish Dogme ’95.  From a critical standpoint, the consistent tone running through all of the films is even more astounding when you realize each part was directed, edited, scored and photographed by different teams.  The first two parts were directed by Julian Jarrold and James Marsh respectively, and it’s only in the superior third part (1983, directed by Anand Tucker) do we see any kind of deviation, and that’s only in a few powerfully placed auteuristic flourishes involving flashbacks and voice-overs. Continue reading

The Spin on Christopher Nolan

NOTE TO READERS on 7-16-10Click here for the full Inception report and review.

In preparation for the release of Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated and much ballyhooed Inception this Friday (stay tuned for a full report following the Thursday night 11:59pm advance showing I plan to attend), I decided to hold a mini-marathon here at the ‘Spin and take a look back on three of Nolan’s non-Gotham related works:  Memento, Insomnia and The Prestige.    

I make no apologies, and it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, that Nolan is one of my favorite working directors.  It’s been uncanny how well he has been able to work within the mainstream studio system and deliver the type of dark, twisted, psychologically complex, crowd-pleasing and zeitgeist-tapping films people crave in the new millennium.  It’s always interesting to do retrospectives of auteurs as you can witness over the course of a few nights the birth of their art, the refinement of their techniques and the emergence of their recurring themes.   

Christopher Nolan

First, we shall look at his breakthrough film, Memento (2000)Continue reading

Napoleon Complex

Sometimes a film exists beyond words (spoken or not) and there’s no description that can accurately prepare one for what they are about to see.  Some films exist solely on a visual level, are so purely cinematic, that nothing anyone could ever say about them could speak as well as the images from the film themselves.  Hell, but that won’t stop film buffs and writers like myself from giving it the old college try. 

Triptych on this.

Recently, I was lucky enough to have someone over there at the incomparable Wonders in the Dark toss me a copy across the pond of the Kevin Brownlow restored version of Abel Gance’s Napoleon.  It included the Thames Television cut of the film (which runs over five hours and is presented mini-series style in three parts) with both the TV tailored single frame version of the Italian set finale and the phantasmagoric tripped-out red-white-and-blue triptych that is unlike anything ever seen before or since.  I’ve been told this is the definitive way to view the film and far superior to the Coppola produced version that came out stateside around the same time in 1980.

If a director were to compose a film today like Abel Gance composed his untethered and monstrous epic Napoleon in 1927, it would be called audaciously experimental.  Continue reading

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Recently over at Wonders in the Dark, Sam Juliano posted an engaging piece where film buffs were invited to name their favorite movie scores of all time.

Even I had been so bold as to name the greatest film composers not so long ago here at The Schleicher Spin.

And while it’s true, many of the greatest films are also imbued with beautiful original musical scores where the moving images flow in perfect harmony with the composers’ notes…it made me wonder…

What of the artists who take a well-known existing piece of music and create moving images that become married to the music’s rhythm?

It’s been so parodied over the years…but can anyone deny the jaw-droppingly imaginative conceit of Stanley Kubrick using Richard Strauss’ “The Spoke Zarathustra” for the opening to his greatest cinematic achievement (hell, THE GREATEST CINEMATIC ACHIEVEMENT) 2001: A Space OdysseyContinue reading

Well If You Must Scream

We can scream if we want to!

We can scream if we want to!

Inspired by the current polling going on at Wonders in the Dark  (which for my money is the best movie blog site on the web right now) concerning the Best Films of the 1970’s, I decided to catch up on some of the great films from that decade I had yet to see.  One thing led to another, and there I was with the obscure Edvard Munch sitting atop my Netflix queue.  Directed by renowned forefather of the docudrama, Britian’s Peter Watkins, this complex and nearly four hour long biopic of Norwegian post-Impressionist painter Edvard Munch was originally made as a miniseries for Norwegian/Swedish TV in 1974.  It was released theatrically around the world in 1976 and was recently done up as a two-disc special edition on DVD.  I watched it in those two parts over the course of two nights and was completely transfixed.

Brazenly presented in the style of a documentary, Watkins’ film begs you to feel as if his cameras were literally there from “moment one” in Munch’s childhood during the late 1800’s all they way up through the abrupt close of the film half way through his life around 1910.  Continue reading