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Stop Making Sense (#110 of 4)

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Aaron Aradillas’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Aaron Aradillas’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Aaron Aradillas’s Top 10 Films of All Time

How do you distinguish a movie that’s one of the greatest of all time from one of your all-time favorites? Is there a distinction? Making a top 10 list of the greatest movies of all time made me realize that there is and there isn’t. For example: John McTiernan’s Die Hard is one of my favorite movies, but it didn’t make this list. On the other hand, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou is one of the greatest movies ever made, but it didn’t make this list either. Maybe it would’ve been easier to choose movies in specific genres and categories. For example: Most people would argue that Singin’ in the Rain is the greatest musical of all time. It certainly is one of them but I’d make the case that Saturday Night Fever is just as monumental an achievement in the musical genre.

But the task at hand is to make a list of the 10 movies I consider to be the greatest ever made. Following the model of the Sight & Sound critics’ poll, I consider this list to be fluid and not set in stone. Surprisingly, I didn’t agonize over this list that much (I agonize more when I make my year-end list). My choices are movies that continue to speak to me long after I can anticipate every line of dialogue, every edit, or plot point. I feel I will never fully understand why I consider these movies to be the greatest ever made. So, if some of my choices baffle you, take comfort in knowing they baffle me, too.

The Conversations: Rock Concert Films

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The Conversations: Rock Concert Films
The Conversations: Rock Concert Films

Jason Bellamy: For one of my younger brothers, 2010 was the summer of music. Approaching his junior year at the University of Oregon, he spent the past few months attending about every concert that came his way in the Pacific Northwest. The criteria seemed to be this: If the concert was within driving distance and featured loud (preferably metal) bands that hadn’t had a big hit since before he was born, he was going. And so he rocked to Iron Maiden, Cinderella, the Scorpions, Billy Idol, and more. He rocked at large arenas and relatively intimate county fairs, sneaking up to the front of the stage when he could to snap pictures that he would eventually file along with similar snapshots of bands like AC/DC and KISS.

My brother loves music—if he’s partial to rock and metal, he’s rather indiscriminate within that genre (if you couldn’t tell). But I think the biggest reason my brother attends concerts is because he loves the energy of the live events, where he doesn’t just hear the music but feels it, too. Even when you’re pressed shoulder to shoulder with other attendees, and even when the musicians are so far away that you need to rely on the video screens to see the musicians’ expressions, there’s something very intimate and magically visceral about concerts. You can know every note and lyric of a band’s work from listening to their albums, but somehow seeing them live makes us feel as if we know them better, or know them for the first time.

Maybe that phenomenon is what inspires filmmakers to make concert documentaries in the first place: the challenge of simulating the feeling of being there. There are numerous films about musical artists—from A Hard Day’s Night (1964) to Elvis: That’s the Way It Is (1970) to Bob Dylan: No Direction Home (2005) to This Is It (2009)—some of which go backstage, some of which play historian, some of which are hardly about music at all, and so there’s no way we could have an all-encompassing discussion about that larger cinematic genre and its many sub-genres. Still, it’s a genre worth tackling, and so in this discussion we’re going to focus on five films—Woodstock (1970), Gimme Shelter (1970), Stop Making Sense (1984), Rattle and Hum (1988) and Instrument (2001)—that despite their incredible diversity have one thing in common: their chief aim seems to be to replicate the sensation of being there. And in the case of the first film, Woodstock, the music might be the least interesting part of that experience, am I right?

2007: My Year in Personal Artistic (and Not So Artistic) Explorations

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2007: My Year in Personal Artistic (and Not So Artistic) Explorations
2007: My Year in Personal Artistic (and Not So Artistic) Explorations

Life. That’s my excuse (well, one of them, anyway) for not spending quite as much time at the movies this past year—either in the theater or via my Netflix subscription—as in 2006. Certainly the quality of the movies themselves weren’t at fault. While 2006 as a whole left me underwhelmed—this despite indelible films like Inland Empire, Three Times and Miami Vice—the fall movie season of 2007 turned out to be a particularly rich time for interesting, stimulating cinema.

"I’m a lot like you were": Jonathan Demme and Neil Young’s Heart of Gold

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“I’m a lot like you were”: Jonathan Demme and Neil Young’s <em>Heart of Gold</em>
“I’m a lot like you were”: Jonathan Demme and Neil Young’s <em>Heart of Gold</em>

Jonathan Demme’s Heart of Gold, a concert film starring Neil Young, is not just a record of a performance, it’s an example of great filmmaking at its most direct. It encourages you not just to contemplate Neil Young, the man and the musician, and connect his music with his life, but also to think about art and what it means to be an artist while admiring a brilliant movie’s crystalline construction.

Shot in 2005 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, just five months after Young survived an operation to neutralize a potentially fatal brain anyeurism, Heart of Gold features Young, his backup band, his regular collaborator Emmylou Harris, a horn section, a string section and a gospel choir. The set list is broken cleanly in two. Part One is a live performance of Young’s biographical concept album Prairie Wind, the third panel in a series of albums that also includes 1972’s Harvest and his 20-years-later followup Harvest Moon. Part Two cherry picks songs from earlier in Young’s career. The juxtaposition of older and new material prompts the viewer to realize, with delight, how much of Young’s output seems to be told from the perspective of an older man looking back on life or a younger man looking forward to wisdom.