House Logo
Explore categories +

Once Upon A Time In The West (#110 of 6)

The 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

Comments Comments (...)

The 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

TCM Classic Film Festival

The 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

At the risk of invoking the spirit of the perpetually weary Lili Von Shtupp from Blazing Saddles, long before I ever hopped the red line train to Hollywood Boulevard in anticipation of the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival last Thursday night, I had already been beset by a heavy sense of festival fatigue. Such bemoaning might seem misplaced coming from someone who attends exactly one festival a year—this one. But after a noticeable slump last year, in my energy and in the level of the festival’s programming overall, I had begun to worry that after eight TCMFFs in a row the dip in enthusiasm I’d registered last year might blossom into a full-on festival hangover before this year’s fun had even had a chance to begin. However, as news of the specifics of the festival began to trickle out, there became apparent a reason to suspect, if not outright hope, that 2018 might provide a tonic to address the comparatively flat spirits which earmarked the previous gathering.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Ballot Craig Simpson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

Comments Comments (...)

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

I’ll sidestep the usual throat-clearing about the thought process behind my all-time 10-best-movies list (the agonizing, the second-guessing, the hair-splitting between “bests” and “favorites,” the last-minute changes—yes, it was quite a ride), and cut to the chase. My picks deceptively cover six decades of film history, albeit hopscotching over three of them. Nine of my 10 choices hail from the 1960s and 1970s, making the one remaining look like a token acknowledgment of the silent era when it’s anything but. Nevertheless, six of my films were released between 1967 and 1970, which suggests what I’ve often suspected: that that era of cinema is my favorite. I hasten to add, however, that none of my selections are Easy Riders; and my timeframe stops short of any Raging Bulls. In alphabetical order, my Top 10 movies are:

If I Had a Sight & Sound Ballot Robert C. Cumbow’s Top 10 Films of All Time

Comments Comments (...)

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Robert C. Cumbow’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Robert C. Cumbow’s Top 10 Films of All Time

For many years, I maintained a Top 10 list. It was changing all the time, but by the mid-1980s, I had pretty well nailed it down. Only by then was it a Top 12, not a Top 10, and anyone who asked me my Top 10 films got an unexpected bonus. And that was how it was until a couple of years ago, when I allowed myself the latitude of increasing my all-time favorites to a list of 15. But as a devoted game player, I respect rules and try to play by them, so for this personal Top 10 list project, I’ve forced myself to pick just 10. These are not necessarily the same 10 I would pick if my criteria were cinematic greatness, beauty, and far-reaching influence—though they easily could be. No, these are favorite films, the films that mean the most to me, the ones that give me the most and best chills. There are lots more where these came from, but for now, these are the ones. I present them in chronological order to avoid any suggestion of preference.

A Vision of the Past, and Future Red Dead Redemption

Comments Comments (...)

A Vision of the Past, and Future: Red Dead Redemption
A Vision of the Past, and Future: Red Dead Redemption

Developed by Grand Theft Auto masterminds Rockstar Games, Red Dead Redemption is the game GTA always wanted to be. This pseudo-sequel to 2004’s Red Dead Revolver—a functional if underwhelming third-person western saga—thrusts you into a roam-all-you-want Old West sandbox environment, allowing you the freedom to concentrate on the storyline’s primary missions or simply gallop about the vast plains, dusty deserts, and Mexican mountains, collecting rare herbs, hunting wild animals, and rescuing whatever damsel in distress you might happen upon along the way. Far less limiting than GTA’s urban metropolises, which—because so much of those cities’ interior spaces were inaccessible—always felt constructed out of paper houses, Red Dead Redemption’s settings are fully, thrillingly alive, their functioning ecosystems, sudden dramatic occurrences, and operative economy all helping to create a sense of participating in a universe that operates independent of (rather than revolves around) you. To spend time in this adventure’s locales is to feel a part of a wider world. And, consequently, to catch a glimpse at gaming’s immersive potential.

As with its GTA predecessors, Red Dead Redemption is at once upfront about its cinematic influences and yet not beholden to them, using its myriad frames of reference to produce something both familiar and unique. You platy as John Marston, a former outlaw who’s compelled in 1911 by the federal government—under threat to his family—to visit New Austin (a Texas stand-in) to track down and kill former criminal mate Bill Williamson. It’s a task that goes awry at outset, thus compelling you to get Marston back on his feet and prepare for a siege on Williams’s fort compound. If that basic setup sounds similar to countless classic and revisionist westerns, that’s no accident, as allusions abound throughout Red Dead Redemption’s lengthy campaign. As always, though, Rockstar doesn’t name-check so much as simply tip the cap to its favorite celluloid ancestors, from Once Upon a Time in the West (and its depiction of encroaching modernity sounding the old guard’s death knell) and The Wild Bunch (especially during the game’s later Mexican Civil War sequences) to, in the name of a budding oil community, There Will Be Blood.

The Poet As Hired Gun: Ennio Morricone

Comments Comments (...)

The Poet As Hired Gun: Ennio Morricone
The Poet As Hired Gun: Ennio Morricone

I wonder whether Ennio Morricone would be accepting an honorary Oscar at the Academy Awards Feb. 25 had he not been primary-school classmates with one Sergio Leone.

Morricone likes to remind interviewers that Leone’s spaghetti westerns represent just a sliver of his output (examples of which will be screened February 2-22 at New York’s Film Forum). He’s produced hundreds of scores, including five that have been nominated for Oscars: Days of Heaven, The Mission, The Untouchables, Bugsy and Malena. But his groundbreaking contribution to that trilogy that began 43 years ago is what caught the film world’s imagination and led to a high-profile career. And the truth is that Morricone’s work since then, the quality work of an established artist, has rarely equaled the inventiveness of the early stuff.

5 for the Day: Title Sequences

Comments Comments (...)

5 for the Day: Title Sequences
5 for the Day: Title Sequences

You’ve gotten your popcorn and taken your seat. Your cellphone is turned OFF. You settle back as the house lights finally dim after 20 minutes of trailers. The production logos vanish and so the opening credits begin. Sometimes this is the best part of a movie. The mood is set—a world of possibility opens up and nothing has come afterwards yet to muck it up. The title sequence acts as a decompression chamber—a transitional portal to another time and place. Some of the best title sequences could work as short films in their own right.

Up until 1950 or so, there were no opening credit sequences per se. The backgrounds and lettering might change, but the format was by and large standard. Then, in 1955, something new happened. Otto Preminger hired New York graphic artist Saul Bass to design the titles for The Man with the Golden Arm. The animated cutouts that Bass set to Elmer Bernstein’s music were influential. Preminger instructed movie projectionists to open the curtains before the credits started, something they weren’t in the habit of doing, and the results changed movies forever.

So, without further ado, let the curtains open for five of my favorites—and then on to yours.