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Version: 3.0
(February 8, 2014)


I'm a film buff; a hopeless film buff, at that. I have a collection of movies I love and watch regularly. Some I know so well that watching them again is like catching up with a good friend. Others I see less rarely, like that annoying friend that is best taken in small doses but loved nonetheless. Some you may have seen or heard of, some you're likely to be unfamiliar with. All are worth mentioning.

Note to the reader: learn more about all films mentioned below and many more at The Internet Movie Database.

.The Early Years.

In my opinion, film leapt from entertainment to art with the work of Charlie Chaplin, which merged brilliant comedy with poignant social commentary and earned him the title of most well-known living person of his era. Using a cast and crew he knew and liked (Rollie Totheroh was the camera man on almost all the films Chaplin made, working together for 38 years), he was able to speak to people without using words, preferring to continue making silent films long after everyone else had switched to sound. Chaplin understood the power of silence in movies, once saying that to hear The Tramp speak would rob him of his mystery, the unknown element that every audience member could identify with. My favourite is The Great Dictator, his film inspired by European fascism featuring a Hitler send-up named Adenoid Hinkle. He was ridiculed for making the film (at the time, America had not entered World War 2) but later declared a genius by the same scoffers. From his early days as a bit player to running his own studio, Chaplin was a masterful entertainer whose work continues to inspire laughter and appreciation.

Another great from the silent era was Louise Brooks, star of numerous films, including Pandora's Box. After her career fizzled with the introduction of sound, Brooks went into obscurity, even working at a department store at one point, until she was rediscovered and began a new career as a Hollywood journalist. With her dark look and unique style, Brooks was a true original whose influence is still felt today.

Casablanca. A title evocative of its era like no other. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman perform flawlessly as a former couple reunited under uncertain circumstances, perfectly summed up when Rick (Bogart) says Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine. Will she stay? Will she go? What about the Nazis? Watch and find out. Then play it again.

Tho he hated the movie, The Wild One was Marlon Brando's first hit. Loosely based on a true story, Brando is cast as Johnny, the leader of the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club. After causing trouble at a motorcycle race, the gang stops at a small town, where trouble ensues after a rival gang arrives. This film is all about attitude; when asked what he's rebelling against, Johnny replies Whaddya got? Cheesy but altogether unforgetable. Other brilliant films featuring Brando include On The Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire, both directed by Elia Kazan, feature Brando at his peak. A washed-up boxer in the former and a rough, abusive husband in the latter, Brando set a new standard for acting performance. Other roles include the title role in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather and as the mad Colonel Kurtz Apocalypse Now, also by Coppola.

Any of the three films starring James Dean are worth watching, if only to see the genesis of a legend. Dean was intense, never more so than in Rebel Without A Cause, director Nicholas Ray's near-perfect juvenile delinquent film. Ray went on to direct many more films but Dean only lived long enough to star in one more, George Steven's epic, Giant. Dean was killed in a car crash in 1955, at the age of 24.

.The New Hollywood.

The Hollywood system that created such stars as Bogart, Brando and Dean essentially died in the 1960s. Competition from television, high-budget flops and an emerging youth culture combined to drain the market audience of a film culture that had hardly changed from its inception. With the release of Bonnie & Clyde in 1967 and Easy Rider in 1969, the New Hollywood era was born. Small, more meaningful films replaced the irrelevant blockbuster. Low-budget savvy replaced months of production. Movie stars began to look like real people. Heavily influenced by the French New Wave and fueled by the independent spirit of filmmakers like John Cassavetes, the New Hollywood era, which lasted roughly 12 years, produced films that reflected the revolutionary times in which they were made.

Easy Rider, directed by Dennis Hopper and produced by his co-star, Peter Fonda, became a true cultural icon. Being the first feature film made for the 1960's counterculture, it was a movie in which A man went looking for America and couldn't find it anywhere. The film can be seen as an analogy of the idealism of the 60s youth, beginning with a dream, taking steps to make that dream real, a dream which ended in violence.

After finding success with his directorial debut, Hopper's erratic behaviour and substance abuse destroyed his career for several years, until his return in Apocalypse Now, in which he played a photojournalist in Colonel Kurtz' camp, one of his more memorable roles. Fonda continued to make mostly B grade films until his Oscar-nominated starring role in Ulee's Gold, a role as unlike Captain America as one can imagine. Along the way he fathered Bridget, who has made a career for herself in films such as Single White Female and Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown.

After the tragic murder of his wife by the Manson Family, Roman Polanski returned to Hollywood to direct one of the greatest films of the 70s, Chinatown, a tale of greed, power and incest set in the 1930s. Chinatown would be the film that proved Jack Nicholson to be more than a character actor, Faye Dunaway to be one of the most beautiful women of her time, and Robert Towne as one of the finest screenwriters ever. Towne's screenplay is so brilliant it is used in many screenwriting classes as an example of the perfectly-written screenplay. Chinatown is one of my absolute favourite films and one I watch regularly, with each viewing revealing some little detail I hadn't noticed before.

Francis Ford Coppola is best known for the Godfather trilogy but my favourite from him is Apocalypse Now, which I've already mentioned several times before. A flawed masterpiece of film, it was besieged from the beginning; a movie about the Vietnam War at a time when the memory of that conflict was all-too fresh; the original star (Harvey Keitel) was fired and his replacement (Martin Sheen) had a near-fatal heart attack during filming, soon followed by Coppola's nervous breakdown; Marlon Brando showed up grossly overweight and unprepared, having read neither the script nor the book it was based on (Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness); a set destroyed by a cyclone; personnel conflicts; over budget; behind schedule by months; the list goes on and on. And yet, a brilliant film was borne of chaos, followed some years later by an equally brilliant and award-winning documentary about the making of an epic, 1991's Hearts Of Darkness - A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, by Eleanor Coppola, Francis' wife and collaborator.

The decade of the 1970s is considered a second Golden age of Hollywood, thanks in no small part to the small, personal films of such directors as Bob Rafelson and Hal Ashbey. By the end of the decade, all that would change.

.Enter The Indies.

The 1980s were a strange time in filmmaking. The 70s were a time of personal films with a message; by contrast, the 80s saw the creation of the action blockbuster with huge budgets, big stars and little thought-provoking content. A few films were made that pushed the boundaries, specifically David Lynch's Blue Velvet, a disturbing story of violence and madness in small town America, featuring Dennis Hopper (in his first role after a stint in rehab) as the psychotic and unforgettable Frank Booth, who brutalises a nightclub singer played by Isabella Rossellini. Almost ignored upon its initial release, it was later deemed a dark masterpiece by an innovative director willing to break all the rules of conventional cinema. Lynch continues to make innovative, confrontational films that rarely adhere to the standard linear-storyline concept, challenging audiences to enter a strange world.

The mid-80s saw the emergence of Jim Jarmusch, a filmmaker who most embodied the antithesis of mainstream cinema. Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, a road film shot in black & white and featuring no stars, little camera movement and only essential dialogue, was a surprise hit continues to inspire filmgoers seeking something different from the usual Bruckheimer hero-running-from-explosion movie (with endless sequels).

The late 80s saw the mainstream acceptance of independent film in America, most notably when Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies, and videotape became a critical and commercial hit. American independent film had its first auteur in John Cassavetes, an actor/director/screenwriter who worked within the studio system in order to finance his own films, beginning with Shadows in 1959. Cassavetes' films were innovative in their loose structure, built on improvisation and collaboration with his cast and crew; if someone had an idea about how to shoot a scene, it wasn't uncommon for Cassavetes to hand that person a camera and let him or her direct the scene. Such a style was virtually unheard of in cinema and marked a turning point in the way films were made, influencing the making of Easy Rider and other films to follow. Cassavetes often cast his wife, Gena Rowlands, in his films, with A Woman Under The Influence considered a masterpiece, earning a Best Actress nomination for Rowlands and Best Director nomination for Cassavetes. John died in 1989; his son Nick has followed as an actor and branched into directing with The Notebook.

Cassavetes' innovations were similar to those of several European filmmakers in that he was incorporating the technological innovations into his personal style. As cameras became smaller, they were much easier to shoot handheld, allowing outdoor use and quick repositioning, a technique put to great use by the likes of Godard and Truffault. Another point to note is that as cameras became smaller, they also became cheaper (tho professional gear will always be expensive), a point not lost on Stanley Kubrick, who was something of a control freak, even to the point of owning all his own cameras, editing decks, and sound mixers. Kubrick made a string of groundbreaking films such as Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001, A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket and more. While Kubricks' films were much more structured than those of Cassavetes, one thing they shared was a strong need for independence to make their films. This in turn inspired many others to create their own films instead of following the Hollywood studio method.

One such director is Robert Rodriguez, maker of such films as El Mariachi (later remade for the English-speaking market as Desperado, followed by a sequel, Once Upon A Time In Mexico), From Dusk Til Dawn, the Spy Kids movies and Sin City series. Rodriguez is well-known for delivering his films on time and under budget, doing a great deal of work in his garage studio. Thanks to technological advances, what was once impossible can now be done using desktop computers, a fact not lost on Rodriguez, author of Rebel Without A Crew, his book about his filmmaking experiences.

Another artist working in a similar vein is author and filmmaker Micheal Dean, whose film DIY Or Die, How To Survive As An Independent Artist and the book it spawned, $30 Film School, show clearly that one need not spend a fortune to produce a well-made and interesting piece of work. Dean has also contributed to Digital Video Hacks, one of the O'Reilly Hacks series of books which aim to help users get the most out of their respective topics.

.Viva La France!.

Call me a snob, but I love French films. So much so that I'm considering learning the language so I don't have to watch with subtitles. Amelie and A Very Long Engagement by Jean-Pierre Jeunet alone are fine enough to make French cinema praiseworthy! Australia's SBS channel broadcasts films from around the world, making it a reliable source of fine cinema, French or otherwise. And let's not forget "March of the Penguins" was originally a French film.

Something I don't care for is when Hollywood remakes a foreign film for the American market, thus robbing it of the very quality that makes it distinct. La Femme Nikita becomes Point Of No Return; La Cage Au Folles becomes The Birdcage; Wim Wenders' brilliant Wings Of Desire becomes the mediocre City Of Angels, a film better known for the Goo Goo Dolls song "Iris" than anything seen onscreen. When will Hollywood producers realise American audiences are sophisticated enough to enjoy a film made somewhere else, isn't in English, doesn't star Tom Cruise or some other Yankee pretty boy (or worse, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, or some other overbearingly charming British pretty boy), and isn't geared toward a teen-male audience mentality?

.Logic Of The Blockbuster.

George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars epic (and responsible for Howard The Duck) once justified the blockbuster by stating that with a steady stream of huge moneymakers in cinemas, studios could afford to take a chance on smaller films, even writing off any potential losses with earnings from the blockbusters. I find his naivety refreshing. As would soon be all too evident, Hollywood spent more time and effort, not to mention hundreds of millions of dollars, replicating the blockbuster experience - namely, big-budget action adventure films followed by an endless array of sequels. This junk food for the mind was responsible for making classics of plotlines so ridiculous as to make a James Bond plot seem feasible, with the knock on effect of turning the likes of mumblers such as Bruce Willis and Sylvestor Stallone into stars. Meanwhile, all those small films that were to be nourished with the profits of the blockbusters either scraped by on shoestring budgets or never saw the light of day. Even Miramax, the one-time independent studio now part of Disney, has backed away from anything remotely controversial such as Kids or Priest for the likes of Shakespeare In Love. With financing for non-mainstream film running ever thinner, many filmmakers including Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch seek funding outside Hollywood and often offshore, such as Germany and France, respectively. With Hollywood being so chintzy about high-quality, thought provoking film, what chance does a minor player such as Australia have in producing great cinema? Surprisingly good, it seems.

.From A Picnic To Priscilla And Beyond.

Australia has, in spite of having a relatively small film community, produced as amazing amount of top-rate films, technicians, and stars. Altho shakey in the early days, Australian cinema began its march toward the worldwide stage with 1975's Picnic At Hanging Rock, a tense, atmospheric mystery directed by a young Peter Weir. Based on the novel of the same title, Picnic told the tale of a group of young schoolgirls, led by the otherwordly Miranda, who disappear on a school trip to rugged Hanging Rock in turn-of-the-century Victoria. A ghost story with no ghosts, sexually tense with no sex, Picnic had a huge impact on the filmmaking community in general and Weir in particular, who went on to a highly successful career in Hollywood. In Picnic, the Australian film industry found a vehicle that commanded respect from an international community that had previously viewed it as being quirky and provincial at best. Things were off to a good start.

The late 70s-early 80s era produced more commercial successes such as George Miller's gritty Mad Max and its sequels, to Baz Luhrmann's atmospheric Strictly Ballroom, the iconic Crocodile Dundee, to the outrageous The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, whose title is derived from the name of the silver bus, not one of the many drag queens that populate the film. And tho the Austalian film industry has seen lean times as of late, it still produces such diverse and fine films as Little Fish, Shine, Moulin Rouge! Rabbit-Proof Fence, Wolf Creek and the animated Harvie Krumpet.