I was recently invited by Footy Almanacker Rick Kane to post ten of my favourite films. I enjoyed the challenge, and now offer some personal commentary on these.
- Cane toads: An Unnatural History
Great line- Cane toads are comin’
Thirty years on, this documentary still ranks among the biggest grossing of those made in Australia. It’s a gonzo folktale on that beast of FNQ, the cane toad. The director Mark Lewis conjures sympathy for these amphibians with clever point of view camera angles and a weird contrast to the humans who find strange pride in their relationships with these repulsive creatures.
A triumph of editing is the scene where a local politician spruiks of a future statue to the cane toad which then cuts superbly to a grizzled farmer retorting that, “Surely, this bastard’s not in his right frame of mind.”
I love that the theme of the film is while we might find the toad an odd, peculiar animal, we humans are just as peculiar.
Great line- Norman Bates: A boy’s best friend is his mother.
I loved teaching this remarkable cultural phenomenon.
The class would invariably groan as one at the thought of a black and white film from 1960, but within the first hour all were drawn into its hypnotic embrace.
Most had never seen a movie in which the main character is dead half-way through, and how Hitchcock effects sympathy for a thief in the form of Marion, and then for Norman, a murderer, is a lesson in filmic art of the highest order.
Visiting Universal Studios in LA, a highlight for me was the presentation exploring how the week-long shoot of the shower scene was completed, with, of course, chocolate syrup standing in for blood.
Among the many taboos broken are the first instance in a Hollywood release of a flushing toilet.
Great line- Near the day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky (Hopi Indian prophecy featured in the closing scene)
I had not long left teenage-hood when I saw this film in North Adelaide with my girlfriend’s sister. My tiny world was expanding and this documentary, with its majestic and terrifying vision of our planet, kicked off my passion for non-verbal cinema such as Microcosmos and Baraka. All make expert and haunting use of juxtaposition between the natural and constructed worlds.
A critic noted that the film is satirising how we don’t use technology, but we live it.
This visual poem compromised largely of slow motion and time lapse sequences features a mesmerising Phillip Glass score, as do the two sequels, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi. I once owned these on CD, and when I lived in Wudinna in a secluded farm house, played them quite obsessively, to the barren, uninterested paddocks.
To watch Koyaanisqatsi is to view our world afresh with wonder, but also fear.
- The Big Lebowski
Great line- Walter Sobchak: [shouting] Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules? Mark it zero!
Inspired by The Big Sleep, this shaggy dog story, with its meandering plot and eccentric characters is unyielding fun. I’ve realised that I love films with a voice-over narration, and Sam Elliot’s is a perfect baritone drawl.
A measure of its personal impact is how often it bobs up in my everyday life. From Maud’s ultimate reference: “A good man- and thorough” to Walter’s interior design critiques: “That rug really tied the room together” it has tremendous longevity.
Against stiff competition like King Pin it’s the best bowling movie and for mine, Townes Van Zandt’s version of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Dead Flowers” is a peerless closing credit song. A laconic, cool ending to a laconic, cool film.
- The Royal Tenenbaums
Great line- He started buying real estate in his early teens and seemed to have an almost preternatural understanding of international finance.
I’m a spoken word, auditory type of chap, with little native grasp of visual beauty, but Wes Anderson’s filmography is wonderful to look at. It’s sumptuous. I love his use of palette and the painterly nature of his shot composition in The Grand Hotel Budapest, for example. There’s also an exquisite use of symmetry in his work that renders it irresistible.
The opening sequence of The Royal Tenenbaums employs the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” to jubilant effect and establishes an uplifting tone to what could otherwise be dismal material. Alec Baldwin’s narration offers both a comic and sensitive tone, and throughout, the Tenenbaum family and its hangers-on bounce off each other with such joyous ridiculousness that despite all I’m left with a huge sense of fun and heart.
It’s a great ensemble performance.
Up next, my top five!