Entry: Movie suggestions for my sister (part one) Friday, April 09, 2004

I've been bummed out by all the negative stuff I've been writing about lately.  Here's something more upbeat.   The following is part one of an email sent to my sister.  While well-educated, she realized over Christmas break that she really hasn't seen many films from before her teen years.  While not intended to be complete, it does represent my very favorite films by genre. 

This is the first part of the email.  More to follow.  Please comment with anything you feel very strongly about for each genre.

Genres covered in part one:  mystery/suspense, and horror

Dear Sis,

Here is a list of older or sometimes-overlooked films I think you should check out; I am forwarding this to Mom and Dad so they can add ones they feel I missed.  With each one, I'll put a couple of reasons I think it's a great or enjoyable film.

Most or all of these movies have scenes, characters, lines, or themes that are referenced constantly by later movies, TV shows, and so on.

By broad genre:


REAR WINDOW:  Jimmy Stewart is a wheelchair-bound photographer who, bored, starts to spy on his neighbors.  But is that a murder he just witnessed across the common area?  And if so, will the murderer find out he's being watched?  Other great Hitchcock suspense films:  STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, DIAL M FOR MURDER, ROPE.

PULP FICTION:  Quentin Tarantino's best film.  It is very much a pulp-fiction story, full of thugs, criminals, and lowlifes, brought to life by amazing dialogue and direction.  The way the storylines are cut together takes it out of chronological order, but puts new meaning into the movie as a whole.  This technique has since often been imitated, but never improved upon.  If you like it, then check out Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS.

THE USUAL SUSPECTS:  Movie about something that should never happen--a lineup made up entirely of criminals.  Who is throwing them together, and why?  And what does it have to do with a semi-mythological crimelord, Keyser Soze?  Kevin Spacey is great in it.  Other great Kevin Spacey films:  AMERICAN BEAUTY, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, SE7EN.


PSYCHO:  Hitchcock's classic of horror.  Reason:  Hitchcock's masterful playing with film conventions.  In every movie you see, the main character is introduced within the first few minutes.  So, you expect that the person you're meeting in that time will be the one whose story you follow throughout the movie.  What happens if that psychological rug is pulled out from under you?

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD:  What could have been another B-grade horror film made on a shoestring budget is lifted up by good writing and direction, and the interesting (and then-rare) idea of having a black man in the hero role.*  Lots of undercurrents from the times (Vietnam, civil rights movement, racism) come out in subtle and interesting ways.  Oh yeah, and it's creepy too.

JAWS:  Spielberg's masterpiece.  The movie that made summer movies.  Fortunately, Spielberg had trouble with the special-effects shark.  Instead, the movie becomes about what he DOESN'T show you on-screen.  Also, watch for the powerful speech about the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS:  The only horror film to win Best Picture Oscar.  Gripping performances by Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster.  Well-plotted and -directed film makes this the complete package.

* This is the email as written.  I realize now it's unclear.  The way I see it, Romero found a good actor who happened to be black, rather than writing the part for a black actor.  This really is rare even, or especially, in today's racialist environment.



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