Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Thin Red Line?

The International Cinephile Society has posted their picks for the top 100 movies of the 1990's. In at number one is "The Thin Red Line" which is pretty shocking to me since I would not have rated it in the top 50. Terrance Malick's WWII epic had some interesting moments but was, in my opinion, a confused and confusing hash. There are other movies that do not belong on the list as well (that's what is fun about these lists). "Eyes Wide Shut"? Are you kidding me? "Naked Lunch?" It's unwatchable! "Starship Troopers"? Now you're making me mad! "Husbands and Wives" is far from Woody Allen's best effort.

My own pick for the best film of the 1990's is "The Remains of the Day."


Tim said...

Wow, that list is nothing short of terrible.

Ryan H. said...

HE THIN RED LINE is an interesting choice, but it doesn't make much sense to me. It's not one of Malick's finer efforts. As you said, it's interesting, but less than successful.

I understand EYES WIDE SHUT's placement on such a list--it is, after all, the final film of one of the master filmmakers, even if it is one of his lesser works--but it really doesn't deserve the quite high ranking it received. It deserves to sit in the bottom half somewhere, if at all. Probably the bottom 10 or 20, honestly.

But even more infuriating than EYES WIDE SHUT is MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO's placement in the top 10, a pretentious bit of rubbish if I've ever seen one. And even though it didn't place very high, I continue to be annoyed that anyone thinks AMERICAN BEAUTY is a good film.

Others, though, like Kieselowski's THREE COLORS TRILOGY and SHORT CUTS are all well-placed, and if one is willing to ignore the rankings, there are plenty of worthy films present.


Todd Pruitt said...


I couldn't agree more with your assessment of "American Beauty." It is pretentious and bleak.

No doubt that Kubrik is one of the greatest. I absolutely love his well known films but Barry Lindon (one of his lesser well known) is one of my favorites. Great story and it is absolutely beautiful. Compared to his other works "Eyes Wide Shut" left me scratching my head.

"The Remains of the Day" is as close to perfect as a film can get.

Ryan H. said...

Glad to hear you're with me on AMERICAN BEAUTY, and it's even nicer to know you're a fellow BARRY LYNDON lover. I *adore* BARRY LYNDON. I once read Christian film critic Peter T. Chattaway describe it as the cinematic equivalent of Ecclesiastes.

I can understand why EYES WIDE SHUT might not be a ballpark smash with any viewer. While I think Kubrick's films are often a bit more straightforward (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY being a potential exception, though I wouldn't say it's ultimately too cryptic beyond its tripped-out final section), EYES WIDE SHUT's purposes are a little more elusive.

That said, if you'll permit me, I'll elaborate on why I have some time for EYES WIDE SHUT. At its heart, I think EYES WIDE SHUT (like most of Kubrick's outings, really), is a morally conservative film, at least in its ideological impulses (in the execution, it's perhaps otherwise). It's a study in contemporary attitudes towards sexuality. It counters an attitude that is permissive towards individual sexual fantasy (EYES WIDE SHUT would suggest that fantasy is every bit as damaging and hurtful as an affair), and furthermore questions social attitudes towards sex that seem to treat it as just another commodity (Steven Soderbergh's recent film, THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, similarly dealt with such issues, albeit in a much, much different way).

The first third of the film, which is the most domestic, is the strongest. We're allowed to enter into the relationship of Bill and Alice Harford, into their jealousies. She counters Bill's flirtation of the night by recounting some of her unfulfilled sexual desires. This moment splinters the couple, and sends Bill on a dangerous journey to find sexual fulfillment (something that the hand of fate rather kindly denies him at every turn, particularly in the case of the prostitute which he later learns had AIDS).

The Bacchanalia at the center of the film was ridiculed by many critics as tacky and passion-less. Where was the heat? Wasn't this supposed to be a sexy film? I suspect many of them failed to understand that was precisely Kubrick's point; indulgent, fetishized sexual fantasy, when realized, reduces individuals to faceless individuals (hence the masks; sex in this context no longer has any room for the meeting of individuals). It's both coldly mechanical, and when you get down to it, a bit tacky and silly. A far cry from what the act should be.

In the end, the married couple is forced to retreat and repent of their dangerous excursions, knowing that the answer isn't to run away from a sexual relationship with the other (in fact, they know they have to run towards it). But even though we're inclined to believe they're wiser, the tension and difficulties remains as long as sex is present. They could fall back. Hence the title, EYES WIDE SHUT. Our protagonists may never really be able to get their eyes all the way open.

All of that strikes me as very compelling, at least in concept. In execution, I don't think the film ever achieves the visual power of Kubrick's best films, and I think the narrative construction is more than a little sloppy. But at the heart of it is a fairly interesting discussion.

Back on topic, I'm sorry to say that I've never seen REMAINS OF THE DAY. I'll have to rectify that.

Somebody said...

Here's a list that will put hair on your chest:

Somebody said...
This comment has been removed by the author.