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Kiss Me Deadly (#110 of 6)

Top 10 Greatest Car Movies

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Top 10 Greatest Car Movies
Top 10 Greatest Car Movies

Cars, it’s often been observed, offer a sort of contradiction of motion: They allow us to move around while sitting still. It only makes sense, then, that the movies have for so long been attracted to the allure of the automobile, for surely the appeal of the cinema lies in its capacity to take us from the comfort of the theater or living room to adventures around the world. The greatest car movies—movies about cars, largely set in cars, or otherwise significantly concerned with them—understand that our affection for our vehicles has as much to do with the possible freedoms they promise as the routines they let us uphold. Cars drive us to and from work every day, keeping our lives precisely ordered. But they also suggest escape: We’re always aware, faintly, that we could drive away from it all at any moment, out and off toward some new life’s horizon. Car movies remind us of the power in that possibility—of all the things that can happen when we turn the key.

Night’s Black Agents Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death and Night of the Hunted

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Night’s Black Agents: Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death and Night of the Hunted
Night’s Black Agents: Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death and Night of the Hunted

The most recent Jean Rollin films to make their Blu-ray debut from Kino and Redemption Films mark a significant departure for the filmmaker. Forced by financial exigencies to eschew the timeless fairy-tale quality of his early-’70s vampire films, Rollin sets these more politically inflected (infected?) films squarely in the present day. Without entirely abandoning the atmosphere of off-kilter surrealism that dominated his earlier films, Rollin proves equally adroit at fashioning emotionally affecting and thematically resonant modern-day morality plays, films that bear comparison with the works of emerging genre visionaries like George A. Romero and David Cronenberg. With its high-rise setting and emphasis on sexualized violence, Night of the Hunted would provide an ideal double feature with Cronenberg’s Shivers, while The Grapes of Death is often compared to Night of the Living Dead, owing to its shambling hordes of pseudo-zombies, the Romero film it most closely resembles in theme and approach is in fact The Crazies.

Both films are linked at their most literal level. Each features a protagonist named Elisabeth, and taken together as a matched pair, the films provide a thoroughgoing critique of the dehumanizing and destructive forces unleashed by (post)industrial capitalism. The Grapes of Death opens with the mechanization of agrarian vineyards and prominently features that emblem of the Industrial Revolution: the locomotive. Night of the Hunted culminates by invoking the routinization of wholesale extermination during the Holocaust via cattle cars and incinerators. The creatures in these films aren’t Romero’s reanimated dead; they’re normal people slowly dying from an incurable disease, a fate that all too easily could befall any of us. The films derive their terrible poignancy from examining the ineluctable process by which their victim-killers’ humanity is progressively leached away.

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

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

List-making is an exercise in futility, but as futile exercises go, it’s one of the best. Over 10 brief bullet points, one maps out a condensed history of personal taste, a cartography of the canon made one’s own. I found it taxing and, by the end, exhausting, struck at every moment with crippling self-doubt. I wondered: Is my list exhaustive? Am I a victim of my own myopia? My confidence in these choices—which, truly, I love with all my heart—began to crumble under the pressure of a (I think universal) desire to not only be, but to seem worldly and omnivorous, to appear to have taken in everything and to conclude, finally, that these 10 films are definitively the best of all time. Which isn’t to say, of course, that I felt compelled to trade out canonical classics for idiosyncratic curveballs (though in the end I included a couple of both), but that while thinking through my favorites I couldn’t help but criticize myself for what was surely missing. Doubt gnaws away at you always, often like so: How much did I know about African cinema? Why are none of these 10 films directed by women? (Vagabond was a late and regrettable cut.) Why are there no silent films on my list? Are these films generally too recent? Should I feel guilty—and I mean this seriously—that each of these 10 films is an English-language narrative feature directed by a white male? What does that say about me as a person? Should I trade one of these films out for, say, Close-up, Paris Is Burning, or A Brighter Summer Day, each of which came extremely close to making the final cut but, alas, did not? The truth is that I don’t know. Maybe it makes me a shitty white critic with blinders on. But what I do know is this: I love these 10 films more than any other films in the world. I hope that’s enough.

The Conversations: Mulholland Drive

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The Conversations: Mulholland Drive
The Conversations: Mulholland Drive

Ed Howard: David Lynch is a filmmaker who has haunted my mind since the first moment I saw one of his films. This is especially true of Mulholland Drive I vividly remember my confused, stunned reactions the first time I saw this film. It was in the afternoon, and when I stumbled outside afterward, into bright daylight, everything looked strange, somehow subtly changed. I’d spent over two hours in Lynch’s world, and in the time I’d been lost there it was as though the real world had been infected with Lynch’s unsettling aesthetic. It was a unique experience. I can’t remember another film that shook me up and destabilized me so thoroughly, and I’ve returned to it, and to Lynch’s work in general, compulsively ever since.

State of Nature: The Moralistic Nihilism of Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly

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State of Nature: The Moralistic Nihilism of Robert Aldrich’s <em>Kiss Me Deadly</em>
State of Nature: The Moralistic Nihilism of Robert Aldrich’s <em>Kiss Me Deadly</em>

Calling Kiss Me Deadly one of the darkest detective thrillers ever made, or the ultimate film noir, doesn’t do it justice. Director Robert Aldrich and screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides’s 1955 version of Mickey Spillane’s novel—in which our thug hero chases a mysterious, all-powerful “Great Whatsit” in pursuit of fortune and glory—doesn’t merely exemplify those two genres and identify the places where they overlap. It defines the difference between cynicism and nihilism, then throws down with the nihilists, if for no other reason than to show you what it means to live in a world where nothing matters. Cynics expect the worst of humanity and are rarely disappointed, but in their hearts, they hope for some evidence that humans are innately kind and that morality is more than a sucker’s game. Cynicism is pre-emptive disappointment; you can’t be let down by anyone or anything unless you secretly nurse a kernel of hope. A nihilist, on the other hand, knows that the difference between cynicism and optimism is a matter of degrees. Like Neo in The Matrix blocking the agents’ bullets and then suddenly understanding, truly and deeply, that the world he’s long accepted as “real” is just an intellectual prison built of ones and zeroes, the true nihilist has had his moment of cosmic disillusionment, and his accompanying realization that democracy, religion, equality—hell, the Golden Rule itself—are all just scam jobs sold to sheep by wolves; that everybody’s mainly concerned with playing the angles and getting ahead in the here and now, even if they pretend otherwise. After realizing that morality and ethics, religion and philosophy, good and evil are illusions of various sorts, and that there’s no percentage in decency, guilt and shame vanish and life becomes a present-tense proposition, a zero-sum game played by beasts that wear suits and drive cars.