Pop culture blogathons took off this year, starting with the "Showgirls" orgy Jan. 11. Since then, we've seen Internet-wide, single-topic essays on Robert Altman, Code Unknown, Abel Ferrara and, most recently, Angie Dickinson.
And so it goes. Film Experience is coordinating a Michelle Pfeiffer blogathon tomorrow (April 28). Quiet Bubble is calling for a Hayao Miyazaki blogathon May 12-14. Girish is calling for a blogathon on avant-garde cinema, with pieces going online August 2. For details, click on the highlighted links. Closer to home, Edward Copeland on Film is heading into the final leg of his poll of the the Best Best Picture winners of all time. No, that's not a typo—he wants you to submit a ballot with your choice of the ten Best Picture winners that you consider most deserving of that title. The rationale for each pick is entirely up to you; just rank the titles in order, with (1) being the best, and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org before midnight on Saturday.
My own ballot is below:
1. "The Godfather." (1971) This was a tough one; I do think "Godfather II" is a richer, subtler and in some ways more daring work, but it would not have existed without the original, so I have to give the edge to the movie that came first. It's as close to a completely satisfying film as I've ever seen. It's sweeping and suspenseful, the character arcs are cleanly defined and there's enough intrigue to keep viewers riveted even if they're not aware of the huge debt director Francis Coppola owes to Luchino Visconti's "The Leopard" and other movies he freely raided for inspiration. This comes closer to being both art and entertainment than all but a handful of Best Picture winners, and frankly, 35 years down the road, it has dated a lot better than many of its rivals.
2. "The Godfather, Part II." (1974) The equal of the original in every way, but an altogether darker, more demanding movie, about the main character's systematic and self-willed moral disintegration. In Part I, Michael breathes new life into the Corleone enterprise; in Part II, he gives his soul to it. The flashbacks to Don Vito's rise in Little Italy at the turn of the century complicate our sympathies for Michael further still. Vito's jump into criminality was willed, too, but at least had components of ethnic pride, community affection and social striving; Michael, a philosophical rich kid who could have escaped the life if he'd wanted, is more self-aware than Vito, more conscious of alternatives to the life, and therefore, in some fundamental way, more open to condemnation for all the blood he spilled, including his own brother's. The caretaker of the family business preserves the business by destroying the family.
3. "Lawrence of Arabia." (1962)
Yes, the main character is a bit vague even for an iconic enigma, the psychoanalytic approach to characterization hasn't worn that well, and there may be, in the end, a bit less to the movie than meets the eye. But my God, it's a beautiful film, shot in beautiful terrain, starring two beautiful men, Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif; the small screen truly does not do it justice. David Lean's masterpiece is such a strirring example of commercial narrative filmmaking technique that it's easy to forget some of its best-remembered sequences (including Lawrence's rescue ride into the sandstorm and Ali Ibn el Hussein's entrance, one of the greatest in movie history) are so radically conceived that they verge on the experimental.
4. "Schindler's List." (1993) It sometimes overexplains and succumbs to unecessary mawkishness. But like "Lawrence" (a movie Steven Spielberg re-watches prior to each new project) it's a intricately constructed, morally complex work that taps wellsprings of grief and anger Spielberg had rarely accessed before. Like the "Godfather" films, it offers more proof that spectacle and art needn't be mutally exclusive. Less remarked upon is how grimly funny it is; some of the situations are blackly absurd, in a Kubrick/Bunuel vein. This seems altogether appropriate considering it's a portrait of a whole civilization gone homicidally mad.
5. "The Best Years of Our Lives." (1946) More than a valentine to returning servicemen, this William Wyler classic is arguably one of Hollywood's first and only epic domestic melodramas, a film that depicts men and women at every layer of their society (a small town) struggling to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of war.
6. "On the Waterfront." (1954) Truth be told, Marlon Brando's lead performance as ex-boxer-turned-layabout-dockworker Terry Malloy has held up better than the work of his peers (except costar Eva Marie Saint, who's just right). And the movie's problematic for a lot of reasons, including the too-obvious Christ imagery and the sense that this is, in the end, a veiled explanation of why director Elia Kazan named names before the House Un-American Activities Committee. But these flaws are overshadowed by Terry's moral struggle, romantic aspirations and emotional growth, Kazan's gritty yet poetic use of real locations, Budd Schulberg's Damon-Runyon-with-brass-knuckles dialogue, Leonard Bernstein's score, and Boris Kaufman's photography, which audaciously invokes both documentaries and film noir. I've seen "Waterfront" probably 50 times, more than any other film on the Best Picture list. There are better movies, but few that mean as much to me.
7. "Gone With the Wind." (1939) With each passing year, it becomes less politically correct to admit liking this movie. The slave characters were more complex than others seen up to that point, yet still stereotypical, and the unabashed nostalgia for antebellum culture sticks in the craw. But contemporary attitudes are a poor yardstick for judging artistic merit. Scene for scene, minute for minute, line for line, this is 1930s Hollywood at its aesthetic and technical peak. Few American films, before or since, are as gorgeous.
8. "Casablanca." (1943) I mean, come on.
9. "All About Eve." (1950) More a verbal than visual pleasure, but the words have fire and music, and so do the performances. It was made to be quoted.
10. "Amadeus." (1984) Like the "Godfather" films, it comes pretty close to being all things to all people. If you start watching it at any point, you tend to stay until the end. And in its portrait of cagey mediocrity outsmarting and destroying genius, it's inadvertently the best explanation of Oscar politics that the industry has ever come up with.
Post your own picks, observations and refutations below, if you wish. But don't forget to email your ballot to Eddie at email@example.com, since that's the whole point of this exercise.