Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Shameless cheating

I’ll repeat the question here: What is my favorite crime movie of the past thirty years?

By my count, fellow panelists, that means any movie made since 1979. Unfortunately this leaves out a big pile of my favorite movies, including The Third Man (1949) with an earnest Joseph Cotten and a mysterious Orson Welles. Poor Holly Martins searches through post-war Vienna for his friend’s murderer and discovers that gunslingers are hopelessly outclassed when pitted against black marketeers and the British military. And don’t get me started on the love story.

What about M (1931)? It’s the movie that launched Peter Lorre’s career and also doomed him to playing oily, creepy villains. The views of 1931 Berlin are wonderful, the acting eerie, and it’s a great use of sound. You know who the serial killer is, the suspense lies in watching him get caught by other criminals.

By now it’s obvious that not only am I cheating by mentioning earlier films, I’m going to keep on cheating by having multiple favorites.

So, for modern crime movies, my first favorite is Gloomy Sunday (1999). It’s set in Budapest in the 1930s (hey, there were no rules about when the movies were set, just when they were filmed). It starts with a death in the 1960s, then travels back in time to show a pre-war Budapest where a lovely waitress named Ilona is courted by a compassionate innkeeper, a passionate musician, and a German invader. Lives are saved. Lives are taken. By the end of the film, I was rooting for the murderer.

Gloomy Sunday has a gorgeous sound track. The movie is named after a song called “Gloomy Sunday” that supposedly was so sad that it triggered suicides every time it was played. The cinematography is splendid. The characters are complex and so, well, 1930s European.

My second favorite crime film is Brick (2005). A high school student investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend, a quest that takes him into a dangerous high school criminal ring. It’s not just the complex plot and the great acting that made me pick this film. It’s the use of language.

Any time you get a movie that successfully tries to re-invent English, I’m there. How can you not love a modern movie where teenagers spout lines like: “But I bet you got every rat in town together and said 'show your hands' if any of them've actually seen the Pin, you'd get a crowd of full pockets” or “You've helped this office out before” with the response being “No, I gave you Jerr to see him eaten, not to see you fed.” Love it, love it, love it.


Kelli Stanley said...

Great choices, Becks! :) I love Brick but I've never seen Gloomy Sunday--I'm adding it to my Netflix queue!

But don't get me started on the classics ... if we didn't set a time limit on the production filming, I'd have written the world's longest blog post ... ;)

BTW--ever see the 1951 remake of M directed by Joseph Losey? It is, in a way, more disturbing than the original, because David Wayne plays the murderer.

Because Peter Lorre has been imprinted on our conscious as a monster since 1931, we don't get as much a sense of the "everyman" as heinous criminal as its contemporary audience would have.

The casting and performance of David Wayne, however, who almost always played sweet, unassuming, nerdy guys (How to Marry a Millionaire, lots of Disney movies, and even Inspector Queen on the Ellery Queen TV show) hits you like a ton of bricks.

I highly recommend it, if you can ever catch it on TCM.



Unknown said...
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Bill Cameron said...

Brick is wonderful. Marvelous work by the underappreciated Joseph Gordon-Levitt and by Lukas Haas.

For my money, the best crime movie of the last 30 years is The Usual Suspects. It's a true writer's film, a brilliant exegesis on the power and range of storytelling itself, from the most personal to the mythic. It takes my breath away.

Unknown said...

Great post, Becky, thank you!
(previous post pulled due to excessive typos)

The writer/director of Brick has a new one, Brothers Bloom, which is *not* a perfect movie, especially the end, but delightful nonetheless.

He plays more with character than language in this one, but it'll tug at the heart of any noirista or romantic, and especially tug at those of us who are stuck being both :)

I saw the David Wayne version first, it's definitely worth viewing, for a peek into just how not-perfect things were in 1951 if nothing else!

Unknown said...

Hey Bill,

Usual Suspects is a lovely exercise in style, but did you feel cheated by the end? That ending soured the movie for me, sad to say. Maybe I missed the point of the movie so the ending wasn't what I expected?

Give me House of Games or The Verdict and I'm a happy camper :)


Bill Cameron said...

Hi, Mysti,

To me, the ending cement the brilliance of the film.

On a mundane but germane level, it illustrated the risk of relying on an eye witness. As a storytelling device, it turned the unreliable narrator on its head in a fresh way. And in another way, it turned the peripherally involved observer upside down as well. Ishmael became Ahab. And, of course, it served to remind us how tenuous our understanding of reality is, misdirection at its finest.

I thought it was perfect!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Kelli! I haven't see the M remake. These days, if it's not set in the 1930s, I don't get to watch it (just finished Olympiad). But I can make a few exceptions...

Bill, thanks for stopping by and sharing a film recommendation. I have to admit I haven't seen The Usual Suspects. I recall thinking it looked too violent in the previews. But I'm tougher now so I'll have to give it a shot.

Mysti! If you recommend a movie,I KNOW I have to see it. Why hasn't the director of Brick become more famous? (Mysti knows these things). Was it just way too arty? Or IS he famous and I just don't know it?

Leslie said...

Two new ones to add to the netflix list! I thought it was just recently I'd fallen behind in my movie watching!

Unknown said...

Bill -- I'm sure the fault is mine!
Beckster -- Brothers Bloom is only his second, he's incredibly young and not firmly in the studio system. But going from super low budget Brick to shooting on the Orient Express for #2 means you'll be hearing much more from this guy, I'm quite sure! Bloom probably cost 5-10 times what Brick did, and studios vote with money.

I make it a habit not to fall in love with men other than my husband, but Adrien Brody in Brothers Bloom, well, it was a close call!