Category Archives: Top Five Lists

My Life in Film: Part 3

These are the actual pants I owned. And wore.

Ah, the teenage years. I owned a t-shirt that read “I am the Evil Twin,” wore pants with multiple zippers that zipped open nothing, and searched for ghosts in newly built homes. Why there would be ghosts in homes that don’t have pasts yet, I don’t know. Perhaps they were built on Indian burial grounds. Or perhaps I just hadn’t seen enough horror films yet.

When I’m really really embarrassed about things, I usually tell everyone so they are sure to know that I know I’m an idiot. So here we go. Most of my film choices in these years were characteristically moody and over dramatic, and yet I somehow managed to keep my favorites fairly respectable.

It’s kind of easy keeping track of my favorites from this time period, because I bought all the soundtracks through BMG.

Adolescence (12-18)

Mission: Impossible

Look at that forearm!

This movie changed my life. No, you don’t understand. This movie changed my life. Suddenly there were things called “boys” and they could look like Tom Cruise!  God, I loved that 40-year-old man. I knew everything about him. Like, how he was a wrestler in high school but suffered a knee injury, which kids he had with which wife, and his entire filmography. Mission: Impossible was my favorite, but Rain Man, Legend, A Few Good Men, Jerry Maguire, Far and a Fucking Way!!!, could all be included. Any movie Tom Cruise was in was my favorite, really. I had fantasies I made up while doing my paper route, in which Tom and I met, fell in love, and went out for milkshakes.

For my 12th birthday my mom got a lady in my ward to get me one of those cardboard cutouts of Jerry Maguire on his cell phone they had in Blockbusters. We had seen the movie edited on BYU campus (back when they used to edit all the R-rated romantic comedies for the Mormons) and I screamed and screamed over that cutout. I loved nothing more. Until….my dad edited my own VHS copy of Jerry Maguire!!!! Holy shit. I’m getting excited and teary-eyed just thinking about it. Encouraging a 12-year-old in her old man celebrity crush? My parents were awesome.

Oh, and go watch 1996’s Mission: Impossible again. It’s Brian de Palma and it’s actually very good.

The X-Files: Fight the Future

If there was one thing I loved more than Tom Cruise, it was The X-Files. In fact, the television show kind of took over my obsessive energy as I started getting a little fed up with Tom (he made a bunch of R-rated stuff that’s his best now, but I had no interest in seeing then. Plus he grew his hair out long and greasy. Ew.). If you’ve read this blog at all, you’re familiar with my unhealthy love of Mulder, Scully, and The Gang, so I won’t rehash all those great memories. But you should know that I was first in line for this film, opening day, wearing my “I Want to Believe” t-shirt. And I was not disappointed.

Yes! Yes! Yes!...

Oh, Goddammit!

10 Thing I Hate About You

Heath Ledger's best performance.

At the time I thought Kat Stratford was a representation of me on film. Long wavy blond hair, bad attitude, frequently-mistaken-for-a-lesbian. Looking back, I’m thinking I probably admired her enough that I was actually a representation of her in real life. But that’s ok. This movie still helped define who I turned out to be, and helped me blame my lack of popularity on the fact that most people were just scared of me.

Rushmore

I know. You’re looking at my previous favorites and thinking “Rushmore? When did this happen?” But it’s a very simple explanation: Luke Wilson starred in my favorite episode of The X-files, so I had to see everything he made. In the process, I stumbled across this little movie when it premiered on Comedy Central. And I loved it. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. It seems far too sophisticated for a child like me, but I did love it.

So I recorded it. But my little shit of a sister (sorry Jessica) didn’t know I was recording it, and changed the channel to Boy Meets World in the middle of the first act. Which means, I totally missed Max’s club montage. I was furious at first, but, in the end, it was kind of a blessing in disguise. By the time I actually saw the R-rated version of the movie, I was almost sick of Rushmore. Then I saw that montage and was hooked again.

Fight Club

I cannot believe I had to image search for pictures from Fight Club. I used to have hundreds of them saved on my computer.

And here we enter a new phase of my life: the catch-up-on-all-the-R-rated-movies-I-missed phase. Out of my parents’ house, into a dorm room with my own TV and I was hooked. Once again I developed an interest bordering on obsession for a film called Fight Club. I had read the book many times previous to watching the movie, and though there were some differences, I thought they were for the better. I watched this movie almost every day for a month or so (alternating it with Girl, Interrupted and Moulin Rouge). I watched every commentary track on the special edition DVD. I decided to major in film.

Runners Up: Night at the Roxbury, Empire Records, The Sixth Sense, Girl Interrupted, Moulin Rouge

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My Life in Film: Part 2

Continuing down the autobiographical highway, here is a top five of my favorite movies when I was about 7-12 years old. An important time for me. We had just moved to Utah, I was starting more frequent trips to the movie theatre (since we lived next to one that only cost $.50. Now a dollar. Two on the weekends. RIP OFF!!) and I was just developing what would become a slightly dysfunctional love of horror.

Mid-Childhood (7-12)

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

No, I’m not talking about that sorry excuse for a franchise, Narnia, I’m talking about the 1988, 171 minutes, British miniseries starring a bunch of people that went on to do nothing much in the acting world at all. Have you seen this thing?? It’s awesome! Totally great puppets and effects. Totally scary witch. And so magical. I once tried watching this for a sleep-over birthday party, but all of my friends started talking and trying to play silly girly games like Truth or Dare in the middle of it. Even though I had seen it probably 15 times before, I was so mad at my friends that I ended up faking sleep and then crying the next morning. We have a picture to prove that the tears were real.

Hook

My first crush ever. Charlie Korsmo. And look at him now!

Yikes! I dodged that bullet, right? But as a kid he was lacking that toupee and goiter and I loved him. I’m sure that was part of the reason I watched Hook and What About Bob? incessantly, but there’s a reason Hook won out, and that reason was Peter Pan. I loved everything about Peter Pan as a kid, and even as an old fogey he still had the moves.

I love all the racial profiling in the movie (greasy Italian kid in the car salesman sports coat, anyone?) and I loved that little girl’s beautiful song. But this is one of those movies that I watched a few too many times. Now I can’t stand when Julia Roberts “breaks her house” and when that fat kid rolls down the plank. Or when that kid shoots the marbles and makes that gross, almost sexual face. Tiny things that only stand out when you have a film memorized.

Cool Runnings

I was skeptical. “Bobsledding???” I asked my mother as we made our way into the theatre, “Who the fuck cares???” Boy was I wrong! Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up! It’s Bobsled time! Coooool Runnnings!! I thought this move was so great! And it’s funny watching it now, because there were a lot of jokes I wouldn’t have gotten as a kid (Yul Brenner, for example) but my mom must have loved. Likewise with John Candy. I had no idea who that fat white guy was, but he was sure a crowd pleaser with the adults in my life. I just liked the saying “royal Rastafarian nee-nees.”

Arachnophobia

I also tried to watch this one at a birthday part, but ended up leaving my own party early when everyone annoyed me too much. I don’t know why anyone even came to my parties at that point. Maybe because I showed kickass movies!? This one holds up. Check it out again.

Jurassic Park

The movie to end all movies! The epitome of special effects. One of my favorite books at the time. And I wasn’t allowed to see it in theatres. Instead, my mom had my uncle take us to see Nightmare Before Christmas, which scared me much more than dinosaurs ever would. But the day Jurassic Park was on video we rented it and I haven’t stopped watching it since. There were a couple months where I watched it every single day (while making friendship bracelets I tried to sell door to door, I remember). I would be surprised if three days went by now without me making some kind of reference to this film. It’s that important to me.

Interesting fact: Jurassic Park started a lot of new habits for me: reading totally child inappropriate books behind the couch so my mom couldn’t see me, a love for all things Goldblum, and I think this is where my extreme fear of large statues might come from. This, for example, would scare the shit out of me were I to see it in real life:

Who am I kidding. It scares the shit out of me to just look at this picture.

Runners Up: Encino Man, Aladdin, and Newsies.


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My Life in Film

I’ve been trying to put together a list of my 100 favorite films. In some ways it’s pretty easy because I have strong opinions about most of the movies I watch, but in most ways it’s really hard because I can’t remember all the movies I love and I’m scared to leave something off. I don’t think anyone would care, but I would feel like I’m cheating my favorite movies. And after all they’ve done for me!

The easiest sorts of lists to make are autobiographical. And while I’m putting together my current list of favorites I have to decide what favorite movies from my childhood (and even recent past) still qualify as favorites. Instead of making those tough decisions, maybe it would be best to make separate lists by time period.

Whitney B….This is your life!

Early Childhood (Ages 4-7):

I start this personal history at the moment my family purchased a VCR. I can’t remember watching any films before that VCR. I don’t think I went to a theater until I was about 7 (“Ernest Scared Stupid“), so for three years that VCR fed all of my cinematic needs. We owned 5 movies:

The Neverending Story

I think most people my age have a relationship with this film. From the Swamps of Sadness to The Oracles to that part where Bastian eats the apple core. Along with most of the movies on this list, I watched this movie until the tape ran out. Luckily, it was just recorded off TV, so we didn’t waste the $300 each new video tape cost.

Mary Poppins/Cinderella

I count these two films as one because they both came from Grandma and Grandpa and very quickly melded into one story. Mary Poppins was a princess who talked to mice and made little kids eat sugar. I loved the chimney sweeps the most, the skinny mouse the second most, and women’s lib more than seems reasonable for a 4-year-old. I hated Gus Gus.

The Dark Crystal

Another movie recorded off TV. I had a bit of a crush on that little boy puppet thing. One day I came home from preschool and found out that my dad had recorded over my Dark Crystal tape with some footage of a government official coming to visit American Samoa (where we lived at the time). I was so so sad, but I forgave him because he seemed to be genuinely sorry. Years later I found out he was so sick of watching The Dark Crystal that he purposely recorded over it, hoping I might not notice.

The Empire Strikes Back

Having not seen the first Star Wars movie, parts of Empire Strikes Back were a little confusing. But Vader was way scarier, and Luke was way less whiny. Boba Fett is still my favorite Star Wars character. This movie kept me going until we recorded that Ewoks movie, which, to an animal-loving child was probably the best thing ever.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

This is still my favorite movie of all time. But I didn’t realize how funny it is when I was a kid. Most of the jokes went over my head, and I felt really sad that Charlie was so poor (when it’s obviously the best joke in the movie). But I still loved everything about every scene in the movie…with the EXCEPTION of the “Cheer Up Charlie” song. Fuck that “Cheer Up Charlie” song. It’s 45 minutes too long.

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Top 5 Unsung Female Performances of 2009

Putting together an unsung female performance list was hard for me. I haven’t seen that many films this year with female performances that stick out at all. I haven’t seen Nine, Brothers, Cheri, Bright Star, or Broken Embraces, which pretty much covers the [respected] female-lead films, and everyone’s already talking about those, anyway. Let’s face it, 2009 in film has been a man’s year. From The Watchmen to Fantastic Mr. Fox to Pirate Radio it feels like every movie I really liked this year featured a huge male cast. But that’s ok. I still managed to scrape together a list of what I thought were the largely ignored female performances of 2009.

5. Mariah Carey in Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire – Mo’Nique surprised everyone by being able to pull of any kind of performance at all, much less one so heavy-handed and emotional. But director Lee Daniels didn’t stop there, casting Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz in supporting roles. Daniels was clearly up to the challenge, and both Care and Kravitz deliver convincing, straight-forward performances. I was especially impressed with how toned down Carey was. After her music videos and Glitter, I think it’s fair that we expected worse. And, luckily, she didn’t live up to expectations. Without all that glimmer and glitz, I like Mariah, which I’m sure means the world to her.

4. Vera Farmiga in Orphan –Everyone is getting so excited about Farmiga in Up in the Air, but what I want to show here is how she has always been as good as she is in that film. She was probably type cast in this role as mother of an evil child because of Joshua, but she takes what could have been a conventional, boring role and turns it into a performance worthy of her. That’s a clear sign of a great actor: someone who can rise above the genre to do something a little more original. And Farmiga always delivers.

3. Sari Lennick in A Serious Man – One of the discussions on the IMDB message board on this actors’ page reads “This is my Hebrew Tutor!” (Someone also points out that she looks like Topanga) It’s exciting to be able to witness the screen birth of a talented actor, and I hope this doesn’t remain Lennick’s only film role. She’s hilarious but aggravating in A Serious Man, and somehow remains slightly sympathetic as she goes about ruining the hero’s life.

2. Alison Lohman in Drag Me to Hell – Lohman has looked like she’s 13-years-old for the past ten years, but she uses her youthful appearance to her advantage in Drag Me to Hell. She appears innocent and fresh, her lisp and fear of getting fat again add character depths to another straight-forward genre film. She manages to play the part of a heroine in a horror film, while also getting huge laughs. She’s great.

1. Tilda Swinton in Julia – This is the performance most ridiculously overlooked. Swinton plays a confused, yet clever, alcoholic who somehow gets herself into a chaotic kidnapping mess. Swinton carries the film for two and a half hours, moving in and out of sanity. You hate her most of the time, but every once in a while humanity shines through and you’re suddenly on Julia’s side again. That kind of versatility without sacrificing consistency of performance is awesome to watch.

Runners Up in No Particular Order:

Leslie Mann in Funny People

Bethany Whitmore in Mary and Max

Elle Fanning in Pheobe in Wonderland

Isabelle Fuhrman in Orphan

Sarah Polley in Splice

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Top 5 Unsung Male Performances of 2009

I’ve been seeing a lot of lists flying around the internet lately (because that’s how I picture the internet. It’s kind of like outer space, but very cluttered). The Oscars are coming up and people are as outraged as ever about those films/performances/writers/whoevers that were looked over. But I want to try to look past even all of that. Hey, I’m with you, Sam Rockwell and Larry Gopnik should have both been nominated. And this pickle and cheese sandwich I’m eating is giving a more inspired performance than Morgan Freeman did in Invictus. But what about these fellas?:

5. Jason Schwartzman in Funny People – There was a lot I really liked about Funny People (the soundtrack, Adam Sandler, its varying overall tone) but I liked Jason Schwartzman the best. Though he does seem to be playing a character he plays a lot – the megalomaniac, smart-but-not-that-smart, schmoozy geek – he just does it so well! I remember when they were releasing short clips of his television show in Funny People, and there was confusion – on my part. Just what was this “Yo, Teach…!”, and how can I get my hands on it as soon as possible?? Incorporating “Yo, Teach…!” into Funny People was genius, and Schwartzman’s performance is genius, giving a comedic release to a movie that, otherwise, it pretty much a downer.

4. Philip Seymour Hoffman in Pirate Radio – I’ve already blabbed on and on about how much I like Pirate Radio. I think the biggest reason I liked it was because of how interesting, approachable, friendly, funny, and…well…likable the characters are. I want to live on that ship, and I want to be friends with everyone on that ship. None more so than Philip Seymour Hoffman’s The Count. He delivers this performance with amiability and fun that you don’t often see Hoffman exhibiting with his characters. So, while Hoffman is anything but “unsung,” I don’t think he’s gotten enough credit for the fun, silly side of the actor we see here.

3. Paul Giamatti in Cold Souls – This film came and went without the praise it deserves. And Paul Giamatti shines as an actor who is bogged down by his soul, so opts to put it in storage. He’s wonderful at switching between his overly dramatic, emotional side and his light, clueless soulless side. Giamatti has never gotten the attention he deserves for the roles he deserves it for (remember his oscar nomination for Cinderella Man and his overlook in Sideways?) and this, I think, is another example.

2. Willem Dafoe in Antichrist – Everyone’s talking about Charlotte Gainsbourg in this film, but I think the unsung heroes of any Lars von Trier movie are the male actors. Sure, they don’t seem to be as harassed and beaten down as the female actors, but, subsequently, they don’t get any attention for doing some of the fucked up things they’ve got to do on set! Like get their penises pummeled by logs! (I assume that was real?) Dafoe is a-maz-ing in this role. His unique features and sinister voice made him the perfect casting choice, because no one expects him to turn around and be sympathetic. So good.

1. James Gandolfini in Where the Wild Things Are – It’s hard to create a character using only your voice. I assume. I’ve never done it…but I bet it’s hard. And James Gandolfini mastered it in this film. When he first shows up, he’s immediately Tony Soprano, but he’s able to divorce himself from that iconic role and deliver a performance that’s so sensitive and touching that it had this bitch crying. That’s quite a feat.

Runners up in no particular order:

Robin Williams in World’s Greatest Dad

Isaac de Bankole in The Limits of Control

Patton Oswalt in Big Fan

Paul Rudd in I Love You Man

Mark Duplass in Humpday

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Top 5 Cinematic Moms

My mom recently found my personal blog. She isn’t a fan of my “potty mouth.” So just in case she wants to take some pot shots at Dear Jesus, here is a list of some of my favorite movie moms!

5. Mrs. Bucket (Diana Sowle) in Willy Wanka and the Chocolate Factory – Yes, her song is the most boring part of the entire movie. Yes, she spends most of her time stirring (cabbage soup, gray laundry, etc). But Mrs. Bucket doesn’t get enough credit. She’s widowed, has to look after four bed-sore covered invalid old people, and she gets overjoyed at the sight of a loaf of bread. Life is hard for Mrs. Bucket, but she still manages to pull together a few pennies to get her sona  chocolate bar.

4. Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter) in The Piano – However compassionate, Mrs. Bucket is probably one of the most boring movie moms ever. On the other end of the spectrum is Ada McGrath. She’s mute but strong, and she goes after what she wants. At the same time, she manages to look after her kid in some pretty harsh conditions.

3. The Queen Mother in Aliens – Maybe not the most sympathetic portrayal of a mother. But you can’t deny that this mom would do anything to keep her children safe.

2. Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) in Rosemary’s Baby – Even before Rosemary gets pregnant she does everything with her baby in mind, including moving to her new, gorgeous and roomy apartment. Ok, so in hindsight maybe that move wasn’t the best choice, but Rosemary makes the best of it – eating raw meat, drinking stinky shakes, and putting up with the company of her annoying old neighbors. Even when she finds out she’s birthed the devil’s seed, Rosemary commits to her new baby. Now that’s a hardcore mom.

2. The Bride, aka. Beatrix Kiddo, aka. Black Mamba (Uma Thurman) in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 – The Bride is dead set on revenge for herself, and for the lost childhood of her daughter. Perhaps her actions are, at first, selfish, but when she discovers that her kid is still alive, Beatrix Kiddo is able to immediately switch gears, doing what she feels is right for her daughter.

Runner ups: Ed McDunnough in Raising Arizona, Lynn Sear in The Sixth Sense, Annie Johnson in Imitation of Life, Etheline Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums

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She’s Right; White Males Probably Aren’t as Great As Everyone Always Says

In honor of Judge Sonia Sotomayor being approved for the supreme court, I give you my top five favorite courtroom films:

Awww! Look how earnest!

Awww! Look how earnest!

5. A Few Good Men – Demi Who? Jack Who? That one ugly guy Who? This star-studded cast (also including Noah Wyle, Christopher Guest, Keifer Sutherland, and Kevin Bacon) would mean nothing to me if it wasn’t for Mr. Tom Cruise. And since this is my favorite court room movies and not the best, I feel a Tom Cruise appearance is in order. There was nothing better at 12-years-old than watching my 30-something-year-old Tom spit in ferocity. Corrupt military, foreign invasions, machismo, blahblahblah, all I cared about were those cute little outfits, and the pay-off was gorgeous.

4. Anatomy of a Murder – The first film under the code to use the term “panties.” Awesome. (and according to IMDB “rape,” “bitch,” “penetration,” “contraceptive,” “sperm,” and “slut.” Many of which words you still can’t say in public school!) Otto Preminger was good at getting away with stuff, and in 1959, as the glory days of the code were winding down, he was able to get away with even more. The result is a fairly honest, bare look at the US judicial system. Here Jimmy Stewart isn’t exactly the innocent little cutie of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Airing everyone’s dirty laundry for the sake of winning a case, even Stewart’s dad condemned the film as naughty.

10040_closeup23. Close-Up – Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up is a film way ahead of its time. Shot in 1990, the film centers around the true story of a man who pretended to be the famous Iraqi director Mohsen Makhmalbaf in order to make friends with a family he meets. Kiarostami cast all of the people originally involved in the case and had them reenact their parts in the case and subsequent trial. Using non-actors and setting up various scenarios causes you to wonder what is actually a reenactment, what is scripted, and what is “real.” What levels of manipulation do we see here, meaning manipulation of the audience and the people involved? To what effect? This movie still has me thinking, at least five years after I saw it for the first time. Kiarostami’s films are all wrapped up in layers of reality, and they are all fantastic.

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2. Judgement at Nuremberg – For those uninterested in reading Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, there is the only slightly shorter Judgement at Nuremberg. Another courtroom film that stars everyone, this film has the opposite effect of A Few Good Men, and masks every star in a more important issue. (Though you can’t keep Richard Widmark down as he shines above the rest.) The film deals with all the ethics a good courtroom drama should focus on: justice, freedom, patriotism, and humanism. What I liked about this one is it takes it’s time. The trial is presented slowly and completely, leaving room for drawn-out (though perhaps over-scripted) testimonies. I think it deserves the respect it’s gotten.

1. Adam’s Rib – This is my favorite Katherine Hepburn movie. It’s so funny, and every piece of hilarious dialogue is delivered in quick passing – true to Hepburn’s classic style. Plus, I just found out it was written by Ruth Gordon! I don’t even know what to say about this movie…there’s nothing to criticize. It’s too funny.

If this photo doesn't do it for you, I don't know what will.

If this photo doesn't do it for you, I don't know what will.

Some runner ups that I finally decided don’t exactly qualify as courtroom films: The Devil and Daniel Webster, Angel Face, The Passion of Joan of Arc. Also, with the release of District 9 and Scott’s recent obsession with “Alien Nation,” I have decided that I want so see an alien-on-trial movie.

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