Ten Great Movies: The California Experience

Originally posted on saccityexpress.com on May 15, 2016

CaliBanner

California is where the world goes to make it in the movie business. The narrative of “making it” in Hollywood is ingrained into the very fibers of every wide-eyed drama student’s brain. But as native Californians, we know there is so much more than the façade that is Hollywood.

The California Experience is not one known idea. It is a collection of individual stories, that when forged together in tenacity and ingenuity, define the Golden State. The idea of California goes beyond the artificial world that Los Angeles socialites portray. Californians are as diverse as the landscape.

Though many movies have been set in California, few have been able to capture the spirit of its people. Here are 10 of them.

“Boyz n the Hood” (John Singleton, 1991): “Boyz n the Hood” quashes the stereotype that everyone in inner city Los Angeles is a thug. Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) had caring parents and good friends. The only thing that makes the police view him as a thug was that he was born in a neglected neighborhood, educated by neglected schools and born black. When Tre’s USC-bound best friend Ricky is shot down in the streets, his brother (Ice Cube) seeks vengeance and murders his killers that same night. The next morning, no reporters cover the three murders, Ice Cube’s character realizes that America “don’t know, don’t show and don’t care what happens in the hood.”

“Boyz n the Hood” is free to watch on Amazon Prime with a Starz subscription.

“Chinatown” (Roman Polanski, 1974): California could not sustain a population of almost 39 million without the complex system of canals and reservoir that make it a land of plenty. In the early 20th century, Los Angeles became too big to be sustained by the L.A. River, and the mayor realized that enough water from Owens Valley could be transported to the city via aqueduct. What ensued was the inspiration for Polanski’s “Chinatown.” It is true that agriculture is king in California, but food can’t grow without water, ergo, whoever controls water is king. Regardless of which resource is most important, what it all condenses down to is greed. If “Chinatown’s” antagonist–L.A. water department head Noah Cross (John Huston)–wasn’t so greedy, then he wouldn’t have been driven to deny water to the farmers of the North Valley, which would have created a domino effect in which most of “Chinatown” would not have happened.

“Chinatown” is free to watch on Amazon Prime with a Starz subscription.

“El Norte” (Gregory Nava, 1983): As xenophobia (unfortunately) takes center stage in the political conversation, I find myself thinking about how we benefit from the fruits of migrant workers. The myth that undocumented immigrants benefit from our tax dollars without contributing anything is blown out of the water in “El Notre.” When thugs kill Enrique and Rosa’s father, they decide to travel to America to seek a better life. The most chilling part of their journey is their mile-long crawl through a sewer when they are suddenly attacked by a swarm of rats. But the rats are not the only danger they faced during their epic journey, Enrique and Rosa came to America seeking a better life, but instead found a land that hated them. It is not until Rosa dies that she finally finds a home.

“El Norte” is available to rent on Amazon Prime and iTunes.

“The Endless Summer” (Bruce Brown, 1966): On the last day of every year of middle school, my classmates and I would all pile into school buses and go to Refugio Beach. In the mornings it was foggy and the water was a dark turquoise, I always remember thinking that I wanted a shirt with that color. When the sun was out, the water still cold, but I still stand by the statement that the best beaches are in Santa Barbara. It is true, that the objective of many surfers is to find the perfect wave and yes, they will literally go the ends of the earth to find it. Bruce Brown’s documentary only follows a group of surfers on their quest. But as far as audiences were concerned, they could have been searching for Shangri La and “The Endless Summer” would have been just as fun and great as it is now.

“The Endless Summer is streaming on Netflix.

“The Grapes of Wrath” (John Ford, 1940): It is a sad truth, but many who come to California seeking success will never find it. When the Dust Bowl destroyed the Midwest–known as America’s “breadbasket”–millions made the epic trek to California with the belief that work was limitless. When the Joads arrive, they quickly discover the truth that it was all a lie. Though the film adaptation ends with more hope for the future than the original John Steinbeck novel, the boundless impact the Okies had on the California landscape and economy is brought to life with the same spirit and anger.

“The Grapes of Wrath” is available to rent on iTunes.

“Milk” (Gus Van Sant, 2008): As California goes, so goes the nation. Since the 1970s, the LGBTQ+ community’s home base was the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, and Harvey Milk was known as its mayor. His efforts as a civil rights leader and the spirit of San Francisco’s liberal community started the gay liberation movement in the 1970s. Gus Van Sant photographs San Francisco with magnificent style and awe, transporting audiences back in time to when anger fueled protest. The scenes of crowds marching through the Castro seem like archive footage from the era, and the score by Danny Elfman pays tribute to Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.” Milk believed that politics was theater – and it is – but he also believed that to be free you have to fight, which is what he did.

“Milk” is available to stream on HBO Go and HBO Now.

“Monterey Pop” (D.A. Pennebaker, 1968): During the early hours that marked the final morning of the Monterey Pop Festival, director D.A. Pennebaker used the audio from Country Joe and the Fish over images of the hippie attendants awakening and rising with the California sun. They’re drifters, slackers and most likely higher than the B-52s over Vietnam. To them, the festival was just another way to turn on, tune and drop out as Timothy Leary put it. Little did any of them know was that they were witnesses to pop culture history. To many, the Monterey Pop Festival was a beta release for Woodstock. But some – including music writer Rusty DeSoto – would argue that Monterey Pop was much more important to the development of pop music than Woodstock. Monterey Pop is where many of rock ‘n’ roll’s most influential artists, like Janis Joplin and Otis Redding, would be introduced to the world.

“Monterey Pop” can be bought through Amazon or on the Criterion Collection website: https://www.criterion.com/films/720-monterey-pop.

“Orange County” (Jake Kasdan, 2002): Though Shaun (Colin Hanks) thinks that Orange County isn’t the best place for an aspiring writer to live when compared to the intellectual world of Stanford, he realizes in this film that his friends and family are his inspiration and that stupidity and shallowness are everywhere.

“Orange County” is available to rent on Amazon Prime and iTunes.

“Sideways” (Alexander Payne, 2004): One of the benefits of California’s diverse range of climates is that it has become an excellent region for producing wine. Napa is the most famous, but I – along with Alexander Payne and author Rex Pickett — would argue that the best California wines comes from the Santa Ynez Valley. “Sideways” is a tragicomedy that follows two middle-aged men’s journey through Santa Barbara’s wine country. Payne treats the Santa Ynez Mountains with the same delicacy and sexuality that Federico Fellini used for Italy in his films, creating a fantasy world. Even the natives seem too good to be true. Miles (Paul Giamatti) meets a Maya (Virginia Madsen) who shares his enthusiasm for wine but with greater passion. Maya’s speech about the life of wine is so beautifully crafted, the audience can feel Miles slowly falling in love with her. In that moment it didn’t matter what they were drinking – as long as it wasn’t Merlot.

“Sideways” is free to watch on Amazon Prime with a Starz subscription.

“Topaz” (Dave Tatsuno, 1945): During World War II, Japanese-Americans living on the coasts were taken out of their homes and sent into the interior. No doubt this dark chapter in American history had a great effect on the Japanese American residents living in California. One of these Americans was Dave Tatsuno, who illegally documented his time in the Topaz camp in Utah to make this film. There’s nothing extraordinary that happens in Topaz; it’s mostly daily life. But after the initial shock has worn off, it becomes clear that Americans have the ability to make the best out of the worse situation. Their country told them that they were enemies of the state, but when there are children smiling and ice skating, playing in the snow, and holding baseball games it becomes abundantly clear that they are not enemies.

“Topaz” is available to watch in black and white on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KboirnCzius.

Honorable Mentions:

“Almost Famous”

“Bottle Shock”

“The Debut”

“East of Eden”

“The Graduate”

“Harold and Maude”

“The Right Stuff”

“Stand and Deliver”

“Tortilla Soup”

“Tangerine”

Best & Worst Films of 2015

Originally posted on saccityexpress.com on Jan. 1, 2016

The middle ground between fantastic and deplorable was almost nonexistent in cinema this year. Here are my picks for the best and worst films of 2015.

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1) “Spotlight” (Director: Tom McCarthy): Revealing and revolting all at the same time, “Spotlight” demonstrates that the search for truth is always led by those who dare took evil head on. Though the reporters at The Boston Globe may not be portrayed as heroes by the film, like good journalism, “Spotlight” allows the audience to view them as such without pushing them toward one direction or another.

2) “Beasts of No Nation” (Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga): Idris Elba and Abraham Attah gave the year’s best performances in this depressingly gritty coming-of-age film. The situation in Africa is a complex series of events that spans millennium after millennium, yet somehow the people of the continent find humanity in a cesspool of atrocity and evil. As in reality, there are no clear motivations or sides in the unnamed West African conflict, which captures Western emotions while excluding the stereotypes.

3) “Inside Out” (Director: Pete Docter): Pixar is one of the few studios that can turn a simple story about the emotions in a young girl’s mind into a touching animated adventure through growth. Classic Pixar is always funny, empathetic and uplifting; “Inside Out” fits into all three categories. The voice work of Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith are only two examples of one of the strongest voice casts for a film that has ever assembled. Truly a magnificent film.

4) “Chi-Raq” (Director: Spike Lee): The media and society has unanimously decided that 2015 is the year of violence. Director Spike Lee counters this decision by adapting Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata” and setting it in Chicago’s South Side. Though many have compared the film to Lee’s 1989 masterpiece “Do the Right Thing,” which is universally timeless, “Chi-Raq” stands on its own in its own time.

5) “Anomalisa” (Directors: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson): Since his debut screenplay “Being John Malkovich,” Charlie Kaufman has made cinema lovers worldwide rediscover the boundaries of human nature. The film is one of those rare examples of how animation can be more grounded in reality than live action. Filled with Kaufman’s distinct dry humor and philosophical rambling, “Anomalisa” is another addition to the writer’s acclaimed portfolio.

6) “Straight Outta Compton” (Director: F. Gary Gray): As police violence against African-Americans is shoved center stage, “Straight Outta Compton” is more relevant than ever. “Our music is a reflection of our environment,” says Ice Cube to a reporter who lacks the insight that perhaps he would not ask the same question if the group was white. Yet it is also a love letter to hip-hop and music. N.W.A. are true artists who paved the way for others to follow in their footsteps.

7) “Steve Jobs” (Director: Danny Boyle): Steve Jobs the man was a focused and driven individual whose goal was to change the world. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and actor Michael Fassbender portray Jobs as an Ayn Rand-like figure whose one true belief was that his way was the only way to stop total annihilation. Perfectly timed and performed by Fassbender, Seth Rogen (as Steve Wozniak) and Kate Winslet (as Joanna Hoffman), “Steve Jobs” brings to life the Jobs that America believed he was.

8) “Brooklyn” (Director: John Crowley): The fruit that immigration creates has never been portrayed as being so beautiful. After hurdling the struggle of homesickness, Irish immigrant Eilis has found her America in the love of an Italian boy. Even when home beckons her, she knows in her heart that Ireland is no longer her home. Her life in America defines her as a woman who knows love and beauty, and that life is more precious than her past one.

9) “The Revenant” (Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu): This film has the best composition of images from the century’s most daring filmmaker. Complete with a cast that can do no wrong, “The Revenant” redefines the American wilderness which has never been so wild. Its protagonist is the classic adventurer powered by revenge-come-hell or Momma Grizzly.

10) “Suffragette” (Director: Sarah Gavron): The story of how Britain’s women fought for the right to vote is brought to life in this excellent film. The patriarchy of Edwardian Britain is portrayed in the same light as the Jim Crow regimes of America’s Deep South, giving the events undiscovered emotional weight and importance, and supporting the statement that war is the only language that men will listen to.

Honorable Mentions

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Best Film of the Year (Honorable Mention): “Tangerine”

• “Tangerine”
• “Room”
• “The Danish Girl”
“Welcome to Leith”
• “Cartel Land”
• “The True Cost”
• “Mad Max: Fury Road”
• “Trainwreck”
• “Son of Saul”
• “Boy and the World”

Worst2015

1) “No Escape” (Director: John Erick Dowdle): This film is so racist that its only saving grace is that it’s terrible. Its portrayal of South Asian people as a force of evil nature, while simultaneously elevating Westerners as the true victims of geopolitical greed, is evidence of John Erick Dowdle’s lack of both insight and a soul.

2) “Stonewall” (Director: Roland Emmerich): The film about the turning point in the LGBTQ+ community fails to portray the true leaders in order to tell an irrelevant coming-of-age story about a non-existent person. Prejudice by omission, this film should simply fade away from audiences’ minds.

3) “The Gallows” (Directors: Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing): This is the most anti-climactic film in the found footage genre. Somehow a haunted high school theater and a few spoiled, bored teenagers just don’t seem to click with audiences; perhaps they are worn out by the saturation in the genre.

4) “We Are Your Friends” (Director: Max Joseph): With a hyperbole-prone trailer, “We Are Your Friends” is the most self-important film ever shown on screen. The story and love triangle between Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, and Bentley’s girlfriend was at best uninteresting, and at worst a gratuitous excuse to have Efron take his shirt off.

5) “Bad Night” (Directors: Chris Riedell & Nick Riedell): It’s as if screenwriter Daniel Kinno has spent the majority of his life locked up in a windowless basement with nothing but a laptop and a few saltines. This film is so bad that it is shameful that such a great cast that includes June Diane Raphael and Matt Walsh was wasted.

6) “The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” (Director: Wes Ball): The obligatory second installment to the “Maze Runner” trilogy was so hastily made that plot holes occupy more space than actual plot. The talent-packed cast came off as being bored and uncaring of the project which made the film suffer further.

7) “Fifty Shades of Grey” (Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson): It’s not the fact that the book is based on a smutty “Twilight” fanfiction, it’s that it was incredibly boring that makes it a bad movie. The sex scenes were nowhere near as stylized as they could have been and the actors had the same chemistry as oil and vinegar. The clear inequality of the images of the genders is also unsettling.

8) “The Hateful Eight” (Director: Quentin Tarantino): No one can deny Quentin Tarantino’s talent, not even Quentin Tarantino. The auteur pushes the envelope too far with this sexist and over-stylized film. Not even viewing in “glorious 70mm” will change the uncomfortable violence.

9) “Aloha” (Director: Cameron Crowe): Crowe’s dialogue in all of his films is a treat for the ears, yet the confusing story and low stakes is where “Aloha” falters. Emma Stone’s casting as a half-Native Hawaiian and Chinese-American is racist by omission in the same way that a white man has always portrayed Charlie Chan. On a positive note, it had a cool soundtrack.

10) “Fantastic Four” (Director: Josh Trank): A stellar cast and popular franchise cannot salvage the latest reboot of the superhero team. It lacks all of the lovable aspects of a Marvel film as well as any sort of human nature. There are reports that there will be two more to make a trilogy. God have mercy.

Honorable Mentions

The-Loft-Movie-Review
Worst Film of the Year (Honorable Mention): “The Loft”

Honorable Mentions:
• “The Loft”
• “Mortdecai”
• “Jupiter Ascending”
“Expelled”
• “The Longest Ride”
• “Burnt”
• “Entourage”
• “American Ultra”
• “The Age of Adaline”
• “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”

Ten Great Movies: Thriller/Horror (or both)

horrorbannerWith the end of October comes Halloween. In celebration of the holiday, I have compiled a list of ten great films that are either a thriller, a horror or both.

“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (Robert Wiene): A perfect example of German expressionism that still stands as an example of what good horror can still be today.

“Cat People” (Simone Simon): A low budget film done right. Any fool would have shown the “cat people” and they would have made the entire film look silly. But when they’re hiding in the dark and are only implied, it is the audience who creates them into monsters.

“Dracula” (Tod Browning): This 1931 adaptation of “Dracula” is the definition of classic horror. Bela Lugosi as the title character immediately became an icon after it was released and has become the model for succeeding vampires after.

“The Last House on the Left” (Wes Craven): I have a moral code that is programmed in me and when that code is violated my opinion is already formed. But when I first viewed “The Last House on the Left,” it was the first time I ever needed to question this sacred code. This film had me cringing with disgust and thirsty for blood, but when the parents take their revenge out on their daughter’s rapists and murderers, this thirst was destroyed by their own gruesomeness.

“Psycho” (Alfred Hitchcock): Though most film buffs look at “Vertigo” or “Rear Window” as Hitchcock’s magnum opus, it was “Psycho” that has stood the tests of time for modern audiences. So influential is the film that the infamous shower scene has been parodied and copied by generations to come.

“The Shining” (Stanley Kubrick): Critically lauded in its time, “The Shining” has become an icon for the genre. Kubrick’s obvious genius is clear as he turned the Stephen King story into a psychological study that is still being read into by generations after.

“The Silence of the Lambs” (Jonathan Demme): Hannibal Lecter is one of the greatest film villains of recent time. This film makes good use of stellar performances from both Anthony Hopkins and Ted Levine as the main killers. The escape for the courthouse sequence still haunts me from my first viewing many years ago. A true masterpiece.

“Trollhunter” (Andre Ovredal): As a personal favorite, “Trollhunter” is an anomaly because of how beautiful the Scandinavian wilderness is shot through found footage. The trolls themselves look more like the fairy tale creatures as opposed to a “realistic.”

“Vertigo” (Alfred Hitchcock): San Francisco has never been shot so beautifully, which is why “Vertigo” is makes audiences want to sit on the edge of their seats. Jimmy Stuart slowly chasing Kim Novak through the streets is what made Hitchcock the master of suspense. There’s nothing really wrong with it, but we all know that Stuart is becoming madly obsessed with the woman. When did he cross the line between following and stocking?

“Zodiac” (David Fincher): This is one of those films that is more thriller than horror. The Zodiac Killer is a part of the Northern California landscape and the fact that they have not been caught yet still creates a natural horror to the region. David Fincher’s trademark aesthetic perfectly examines the folklore behind the killings.

50 Quotes that will Eventually Become Useful to You

One day you will need some advice. Here are some quotes that will one day be helpful. Some are from me and some are from more qualified people. A good amount are from Nora Ephron.

– “Make the show you want because they’ll cancel you anyways.” – Ed. Weinberger (TV producer)

– In the end, the world is filled with idiots and you’re one of them. I hope you’re happy with what you’ve become.

– “A fearless man is, I think, a fool, or a robot.” – Federico Fellini (filmmaker)

– “I highly recommend having Meryl Streep play you. If your husband is cheating on you with a car hop, get Meryl to play you. If you get rear-ended in a parking lot have Meryl Streep play you. If the dingo eats your baby, call Meryl. ” – Nora Ephron (writer)

– “Whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.” – Conan O’Brien (comedian)

– Don’t listen to music when you’re trying to write. You just feed off someone else’s creativity.

– Kill them with kindness; and when they aren’t dead, tell them to get fucked.

– Everyone has problems. It’s what you do to deal with them that makes people care.

– “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.” – Joseph Campbell (academic)

– “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” – Mister Rogers (children’s television host)

– “The answer to everything is 42.” – Douglas Adams (writer)

– “And so hold on when there is nothing in you except the will that says to them: Hold on!” – Rudyard Kipling (writer)

– There is no such thing as cool; just varying degrees of lame.

– “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin.

– “No matter how black, white, male, female, Irish, German, tall, short, ugly or pretty you felt this year, you are part of a family that has been targeted by an unforgiving cosmos since its inception but has, regardless, survived … humanity, warts and all, is an inherently heroic species that has spent about 99.99% of its short lifetime as an underdog. And if you see no billboards telling you that, it’s not because it’s not true. It’s because there’s little to no profit to be made telling you. I could go on and on about the suffering we’ve endured and the adaptations we’ve made, but to me, our species’ crowning jewel is that on the shortest day of the year, when the sun spends most of its time swallowed, when everything is frozen, when nothing can grow, when the air is so cold our voices stop right in front of our faces … we put a string of lights on a universe that is currently doing nothing to earn it. We not only salvage an otherwise desolate time of year, we make it the best time of year.” – Dan Harmon (writer)

– “If you ever accidentally drop your keys into a river of molten lava, let ’em go, because man, they’re gone.” – Jack Handy (humorist)

– “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else, when you’re uncool.” – Cameron Crowe (filmmaker)

– “I would certainly choose to live in innocence. But innocence can only be wisdom in a world without evil.” – John Patrick Shanley (writer)

– “There are books in which the backs and covers are by far the best part.” – Charles Dickens (writer)

– “Everybody likes a kidder, but nobody lends him money.” – Arthur Miller (playwright)

– “There’s always money in the banana stand.” – George Bluth, Sr. (possible criminal)

– Don’t trust anyone who squints their eyes all the time. You don’t know what they’re trying to see.

– Public transportation is your friend. Vote for someone who wants to improve it.

– “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” – Robert Herrick (poet)

– Listening to B.B. King while driving around aimlessly at night creates the greatest feeling of sadness.

– If you put on Marvin Gaye during sex, you are probably not ready for sex.

– If your ultimate goal is to make it seem like you’re smart, listen to jazz. Unless you really like jazz; in which case you’re just cool.

– Normal is just a word that inadequate people created to feel superior.

– “Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter.” – Tina Fey (comedienne)

– “Mastery is about sacrificing for you craft, and not for the sake of crafting your career.” – Sarah Lewis (academic)

– “Webster’s dictionary defines the word ‘awesome’ as fear mingled with admiration or reverence. With that in mind, was your Quizno’s sandwich awesome?” – Jill Shargaa (comedienne)

– Don’t go to school because you want to get a good job. Go to go school because you want to become better at something you love.

– Love isn’t a serious thing so don’t take it too seriously.

– “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.” – John Hughes (filmmaker)

– “Everything sounds more profound when said by Abraham Lincoln.” – Abraham Lincoln (head of state)

– “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” – Dan Gilbert (academic)

– “All the tools in the world are meaningless without an essential idea.” – George Lois (advertiser)

– “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” – Nora Ephron (writer)

– Don’t date musicians, they love too much.

– “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” – Groucho Marx (comedian)

– “Insane people are always sure they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.” – Nora Ephron (writer)

– “Don’t hit someone unless they hit you back.” – Uncle Bubba (uncle)

– “Violence isn’t inherent in one’s religion or race.” – Zak Ebrahim (activist)

– “Good things get better, bad get worse. Wait! I think I meant that in reverse.” – Stephen Sondheim (composer)

– “When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.” – Nora Ephron (writer)

– “Remember the first one through the wall always gets hurt.” – Aaron Sorkin (writer)

– “A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing. Always be closing!” – David Mamet (playwright)

– “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.” – Eugene O’Neill (playwright)

– “Don’t ever knowingly work for bad people.” – George Lois (advertiser)

– “A true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” – Che Guevara (political leader)

Ten Great Movies: Romantic-Comedies

bannerMore than just a genre, the Romantic-Comedy (or Rom-Com) has transformed from laugh out loud to small personal stories. Behind every good Rom-Com is a good writer, so instead of directors, each film is followed by the writer(s). Here are ten great Rom-Coms.

“(500) Days of Summer” (Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber): At some point in cinema history, the Rom-Com got serious – too serious for my taste. Romance was no longer all fun and games. It became an epic journey through time all so young men can find “the one.” Personally, I don’t like the direction that Rom-Coms are going now. Why aren’t we allowed to have fun? I will declare that the moment Rom-Coms began to get serious was after “(500) Days of Summer;” my generation’s “Annie Hall.” And though the direction is not admirable, “(500) Days” must be included because it sucked out all the fun from the genre.

“Annie Hall” (Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman): What is the deal with New York and falling in love? Are the words of Christopher Cross true? Is the best thing you can do when you find yourself between the moon and New York City is fall in love? Maybe it’s all of the tall buildings. Woody Allen’s Best Picture winner paved the way for the simple “boy meets girl” story. The innovative non-linear narrative imitates memories as each moment is followed by another that may have taken place years before or after. Allen’s sense of humor and love for jazz shine in those final moments as he watches the woman he once love walk away, perhaps forever. Then he finally turns and walks away from her.

“The Apartment” (Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond): “The Apartment” is about a man and his mediocre rise to power in the office due to him letting his bosses use his apartment for their extramarital affairs. Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are neither too attractive nor too ugly which makes them look believable as a couple. Director Billy Wilder marks “The Apartment” with his signature quick wit and simple directing style and as a result creates a lasting classic.

“Bringing Up Baby” (Dudley Nichols & Hagar Wilde): Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn have excellent chemistry in this fast-talking classic from the ‘30s. “Bringing Up Baby” may involve a dinosaur bone, a leopard and a confusing use of the word “gay,” but all of that just mashes with the silliness that eventually paved the way for hundreds of movies that would follow after.

“City Lights” (Charlie Chaplin): In the film, Chaplin’s iconic character The Tramp shows kindness to a blind flower girl. Months after their first encounter, the girl regains her sight and meets The Tramp and gives him a flower. When she touches his hand, she realizes that he is the man that has been so kind to her. Buster and Lloyd made us laugh and so did Chaplin, but Chaplin made us feel. “City Lights” is both touching and hilarious in a way only Chaplin could think of. Not only is it one of the great Rom-Coms of all time, but it is also one of the greatest films of all time if not for that final scene.

“Moonstruck” (John Patrick Shanley): “Moonstruck” is so good because it is so funny and yet so romantic (hence it being in this list). When Loretta tells her parents that she is getting married to Johnny Camareri, her mother asks if she is in love with him. When she says no, her mother responds, “Good. Because when you love them they drive you crazy.” The cast’s entire view of love and death is so sad but relatable. Don’t the ones we love drive us crazy? Then when she goes to invite Johnny’s brother Ronny (played by a young Nicolas Cage in his prime), they fight and kiss. Then Ronny curses the heavens before taking Loretta, “to the bed.” Too many scene exists to point out just one that shows how good it is; isn’t that the mark of a great film?

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (Nia Vardalos): It was that moment during the final dance when Voula looks at Ian and says to Taki, “he looks Greek?” that tied up “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Writer Nia Vardalos introduced us to her family and then made us a part of it. Tightly written in an almost journalistic fashion, “Greek Wedding” is one of those movies that deserves much more love than it has.

“Silver Linings Playbook” (David O. Russell): In my Diversity of American Film class, the instructor chose David O. Russell’s 2012 film to show a romance between two people suffering from mental illness. Russell made the film for his son to tell him that he is a part of this world, but what he also did was break the stereotypes of mental illness and brought audiences – at least – closer to reality. Also, Jennifer Lawrence is pure gold.

“WALL-E” (Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter): Leave it to Pixar to make two robots love. The music of “Hello, Dolly!” illustrates the story of two robots who through the end of the world have fallen in love. Some dismiss the story as a silly little love story, but I believe that when it’s coupled with Pixar’s Midas touch that it is so much more.

“When Harry Met Sally…” (Nora Ephron): Harry and Sally are proof the opposites attract. Harry, who reads the last page of a book so he will always know how it ends if he dies rides with Sally, who has to order everything on the side from Chicago to New York. Neither knew that their lives would cross more than once. It took twelve years but after a fake orgasm and a conversation about a wagon wheel table they finally end up together as they discuss the meaning of “The New Year’s Eve” song.

Ten Great Movies: Scores

When Luke and Han fought off the TIE fighters in “Star Wars” and when Marlin watched with content and happiness as his son went off to school into the deep blue sea at the end of “Finding Nemo.” Let us remember the horror and thrill of the infamous Shower Scene in “Psycho”; or the flush of emotion as Ilsa boarded the plane in “Casablanca.” Or perhaps the hauntingly heartbreaking theme from “Grave of the Fireflies” or the lonely jazz rhythms of the ‘70s from “Taxi Driver” will stand the test of time. Or maybe a less appreciated score like that from “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” Whatever it be, one statement stands above them all: music completes a film.

For this list – which is never ranked by order – I have decided to focus on Original Scores. John Williams has been disqualified due to his work being the definition of a film score, his list will come. I have also made the decision to not include music from Westerns as that too is its own list. Musicals need their own list and so they too will not be included. I have also chosen not to repeat composers.

Anna Karenina” (Dario Marianelli): Joe Wright’s 2012 adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” is far from perfect. Perhaps the complexities of the text cannot be shown on the screen. Dario Marianelli incorporates Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony to create the “Russian-ness” of the film.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (Henry Mancini): “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is a beautiful title for a movie. Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly is the epitome of class and female beauty. The scene where stops writing to find Holly singing “Moon River” is such a beautiful moment. “Hi” she says. “Hi” he says back. “Whatchya doin?” “Writing.” Then there’s the final scene. Classic. The two go out into an alley to find Holly’s cat and when they do, they kiss. In the rain. In New York. Classic. Composer Henry Mancini only added to this beautifully made movie, but as far as I’m concerned, he made it a classic.

Cinema Paradiso” (Ennio Morricone): The ultimate love letter to the movies. “Cinema Paradiso” is good simply because it plays on that human love for the moving picture. We watch as Toto grows up in a little movie house in Sicily starting off as a projectionist before finally returning to see the kisses that the priest had refused to be seen by the movie going townspeople projected in a breathtaking montage that ties the entire film together. Ennio Morricone’s score is so filled with melancholy and nostalgia that it almost hurts to not listen to it. It’s the first love, the first idea, the father and mother figures you looked up to, the short reels that played before the movie all wrapped together. If that is not the mark of a modern master, than one has never existed.

The Godfather” Parts I & II (Nino Rota): There are times when “The Godfather” and “Part II” are separate movies; but then they are simply both a part of a bigger piece. Composer Nino Rota told two different – but similar – stories in both movies with his music. Director Francis Ford Coppola used the now infamous trumpet to capitalize his masterpiece just before Bonasera said, “I believe in America…” In the second film, the young Vito Andolini escapes death from Don Ciccio to America. When the ship pulls into New York Harbor, hundreds of immigrants – including young Vito – look towards the Statue of Liberty that had inscribed at her feet “The New Colossus.” From that day on, Vito Andolini was now more, and Vito Corleone was born. How could he have predicted that one day, he would have the entire city under his control? The Godfather. In the first film at the end when Michael takes his father’s place. Kay asks him if he killed Connie’s husband. He says no and Kay believes him for that moment. Then she looks back and sees Michael surrounded by his men as the door shuts on her. She knows who Michael is now. The Godfather.

Gone with the Wind” (Max Steiner): “There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South… Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow… Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave… Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind…” I am obligated by my love for “Gone with the Wind” to include that opening title card. If film making is truly a collaborative effort, then “Gone with the Wind” is the best example of that collaboration. Without Producer David O. Selznick, the direction of Victor Fleming (among others), the screenplay by Sidney Howard (among others), the production design of William Cameron Menzies, the acting by Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable (among others), or the cinematography of Ernest Haller, this movie would not exist. With that said, Max Steiner took this “pretty world” and made it prettier with the infamous “Tara’s Theme.” Steiner’s score is musical beauty and it binds everything together.

Lawrence of Arabia” (Maurice Jarre): There are movies that exist that are a part of a category of movies with a capital “M.” Whether it be the exotic locale, the cast of thousands, or the sweeping shots of the vast Arabian deserts, “Lawrence of Arabia” is one those movies with a capital “M.” Maurice Jarre is the composer and what he created was the detail of this world. In the suite, there are chaotic tribal drums that are accompanied by even more chaos. Then the chaos stops, and we are taken to the Arabia of storybooks. Of course, the Arabia in “Lawrence of Arabia” is not that of storybooks, but the music reminds us of  stories of genies and magic carpets and caravans made up of thousands of camels as they snaked through the sand dunes. There are moments like the Attack on Aqaba where director David Lean lets the camera glide as hundreds of horsemen charge the city. The chaos and horns of war follow them until finally, they reach the sea. And that is when the music swells.

The Seahawk” (Erich Wolfgang Korngold): Most of today’s generation have never seen this swashbuckler. To be fair, it is not a film that has aged well. Set during the time of Elizabeth I and the great Spanish Armada, the film is stuck in 1940. But Erich Korngold’s score must be heard. It transforms from an adventurous swell to diminuendo to a relaxing flatness. This film’s score is by far the best swashbuckler’s score to come from the genre.

Sideways” (Rolfe Kent): Being from the Central Coast, I am a bit biased. You’ve just got to love the music for this hilariously sad film about men in the middle of their lives trying to have one more “good one.” The scene at the Los Olivos café as Miles descends into “the dark side” while being bombarded by world-class wine is so haunting and it brings us even closer to this kind of sadness that Miles is experiencing. But director Alexander Payne allows the comedy in the film to show. In the scene when Miles and Jack are on the golf course and they begin to hit golf balls at the people behind them is such a brilliantly funny scene. The reason “Sideways” was able to keep itself funny in such sad circumstances was because of the dry, deadpan wit of its characters that was coupled with outrageous physical comedy. When Stephanie beats Jack down after she finds out that he’s getting married and calls him a fuck-face, she turns to Miles and says, “You, too!” Miles turns to her and exclaims, “Me?” before she drives off. Never to be seen again.

Treasure Planet” (James Newton Howard): “Treasure Planet” is one of those movies that wasn’t given a good enough chance. It had a solid idea that gave new life to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island.” It’s easy to understand, “Treasure Island” IN SPACE. But the spirit of the classic was still there thanks to James Newton Howard. He mixed space exploration with swashbuckling and what came was what I assumed played in Stevenson’s head as he wrote the book.

“Vertigo” (Bernard Herrmann): I am still lost on whether or not “Vertigo” is a horror film. Bernard Herrmann’s haunting and playful score underlines Jimmy Stewart’s obsession over Kim Novak as he slowly stalks her through the streets of San Francisco. It is appropriate that it be located in San Francisco, the music winds and spins over hills of stress. It is musical dizziness. Musical vertigo.

Ten Great Movies: Animation

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Many of my favorite films are animated films. I love animation because regardless of subject matter, they will always make me feel like a little kid. There’s a special brand of imagination that comes with being an animator. This is due to the literal blank canvas that they are given. In this list are ten animated films that I would consider great.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Carl Koch, Lotte Reinuger): Our shadows are us at our most playful. Who has never made a basic shadow puppet with their hands out of boredom? This early film uses the ancient art of shadow puppets to create a world that allows our imagination to run wild.

Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton): There’s never a big enough screen when watching “Finding Nemo.” A simple story of a father going beyond the greatest of lengths to find his son – and to tell him how old sea turtles are – opens the doors to truly show the beauty of the sea. From that moment when a lone sea anemone takes up a small corner of the frame while sunlight penetrates the vastness of the ocean, to the moment when our heroes find themselves in the belly of the gentles of creatures, “Finding Nemo” will continue to be fresh for generations to come.

Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata): It is one of the most realistic animations ever made. It touches our hearts and teaches us that war effects lives on both sides and that innocence is being destroyed. When Setsuko falls asleep due to starvation of weakness, a voice-over of her loving brother Seita informs us that she never woke up. “Grave of the Fireflies” is the final punctuation on how the craft has evolved while at the same time continuing the age old tradition of storytelling as a means of teaching.

Pinocchio (Ben Sharpsteen): The anthem of this film is appropriately the anthem of the company that brought it to our screens. It was this film that brought some form of dimension to animation as we glide through town scenes and layers of beautiful backdrops. Pinocchio’s wish to become a real boy is a story that will remain in our vocabulary for as long as there is language.

Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs (William Cotrell): The one that started it all must certainly be on all lists that dare to category the greatest of animated films. Walt Disney took a story that was familiar and allowed his animators’ imaginations to run wild. Hollywood thought that a feature length animated film would never work and as history and the world knows, Hollywood was proven wrong. Truly Disney at its best.

Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki): If “Snow White” is Disney at its finest, than Studio Ghibli’s finest is Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away.” More hands on than Disney, Miyazaki allowed his imagination to burst into a frenzy of color and movement in this film about a girl who struggles to bring back her parents. The scene in which the spirits emerge as young Chihiro finds a way to escape is one of the most riveting examples of Japanese animation ever created. With this film, Miyazaki showed what a true filmmaker is capable of.

The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet): This French film is one of the most stylized of this list. With little to no spoken dialogue, it allows the audience to focus strictly on the art. It’s almost feels like a satirical commentary on the modern world with its crime element and over exaggerated and bloated characters.

Toy Story (John Lasseter): There’s not much to say about “Toy Story.” What people love about the movie is its story that when it comes down to it, is about love and compassion for someone else even when their love for you doesn’t seem as clear as it used to.

Waking Life (Richard Linklater): “Waking Life” is a film that did not need to be animated yet it was absolutely essential that it be. Director Richard Linklater uses the medium to aid the philosophical conversations had between characters. It was never meant to look good, it was only meant to be about conversation around nothing; and Richard Linklater is the king of nothing.

Yellow Submarine (George Dunning): The Beatles do it best. Their music matches perfectly with this psychedelic trip-fest that will forever define their visual style. It’s not only fun to listen to – I mean come on, it’s the Beatles – but it’s also a treat for the eyes. The art doesn’t need to make sense, all that matters is that the Yellow Submarine preserve music for the world.

Honorable Mentions

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Fantasia (Various Directors under Disney)

Heavy Traffic (Ralph Bakshi)

The King and the Mockingbird (Paul Grimault)

The Lion King (Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff)

My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki)

Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud)

The Prince of Egypt (Simon Wells, Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner)

The Thief and the Cobbler (Richard Williams)

Up (Pete Docter)

Watership Down (Martin Rosen)