74 – The Wizard of Oz:
It’s very unfortunate. We all know that there’s a fine line between fiction and reality. What happens in real life shouldn’t tarnish our enjoyment of fictional stuff. After all, real life usually has nothing to do with entertainment. But there are a select few films and TV shows – I’m talking complete fiction here – that can be a little hard to watch because of a set of real-life circumstances. I was going to include Aladdin on this list, but I quickly realised I just wouldn’t be able to review a Robin Williams movie. It was even hard-going for me to get through Sin City because of Brittany Murphy. Animated features such as The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go To Heaven become even bigger tear jerkers because of the tragedy of young Judith Barsi. To a lesser extent, it’s hard to watch The Parent Trap knowing it was how Lindsay Lohan was introduced to Hollywood – and was undoubtedly the start of her dangerous path towards addiction. The Wizard of Oz is a family classic and a landmark of childhoods across generations. But it too is surrounded by the tragedy of Judy Garland. The girl who enchanted us with her voice was under intense working conditions – and on a mountain of different pills. She was one of many child stars chewed up and spat back out by the system. The Wizard of Oz would be almost unbearable to watch if it weren’t for the fact that Judy is at her best – bringing Dorothy Gale to life, singing classic songs and going on a memorable journey. The film itself is also a celebration of everything that audiences loved about her. There’s also the fact that it’s Hollywood’s first fantasy film. So I guess I should say that we’re off to see the wizard.
75 – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie:
“Give me a girl of impressionable age and she is mine for life.”
So how about teachers, huh? After our parents, our teachers are going to be the most significant adults in our lives during the early stages of childhood. They’re the ones that teach us how to read and write, as well as instilling a sense of right and wrong. Teachers can easily play the villain or the hero in a young child’s life. They’re either the bastard who spoils our fun, or the mentor we go to for guidance. It’s usually the former when we hit the teenage years. But any story with a school setting is bound to have some kind of inspirational teacher who acts as a prominent mentor or guide. Movies full of inspirational teachers were everywhere a few years ago – especially featuring anti-establishment teachers designed to shake up a conservative system. So it’s all the more surprising that we can find a deconstruction of the ‘Save Our Students’ plot as far back as 1961. Muriel Spark’s novel tells of an inspirational teacher doing her best to shake up a prudish school – and who ends up ruining her students’ lives. Its best known adaptation is the 1969 film starring Maggie Smith as the eponymous Jean Brodie.
76 – Shutter Island:
As we get to today’s film, I realise that this is the first time I’ve watched Leonardo DiCaprio in anything since he won his long-awaited Oscar. Now I thought The Revenant was a fine film and he was great in it. But Mr DiCaprio has really fallen into the trap that by the time he finally wins his Oscar, the role he wins it for is in the shadow of a previous performance. His long-time friend Kate Winslet finally won for the forgettable holocaust film The Reader – rather than Little Children or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Screen legend Al Pacino was awarded for Scent of a Woman rather than his iconic role in The Godfather. Susan Sarandon was snubbed for Thelma & Louise and had to wait until Dead Man Walking. Jack Nicholson was ignored for Chinatown and awarded for As Good As It Gets. So I think by now you might have guessed which film I think our Leo should have been recognised for. Some people might be outraged that Shutter Island wasn’t even nominated. The reason is a mundane one: the studio was already campaigning for Up In The Air and The Lovely Bones, so Shutter Island got pushed back and was ineligible. Given that The Lovely Bones only got one nomination out of the campaign, methinks the studio didn’t quite have its priorities in order. But enough complaining about baffling awards decisions – or we’ll be here for several years – we have a film to review.
77 – Sin City:
Definition – “a style of film making which shows the world as a depressing and dangerous place where many people suffer. Especially from the greed or cruelty of others.”
Definition – “a style often seen in modern motion pictures, prominently using elements of Film Noir. But with updated themes, content, style, visual elements or media that were absent in the Noirs of the 1940s and 1950s.”
So yeah, Film Noir was the original gritty motion picture genre. Protagonists were usually criminals or morally ambiguous individuals who would be slowly sucked into the darkness of the criminal underworld – usually past the point of no return. Film noir was a way to combat the idealistic nature seen in many of Hollywood’s more popular films in the Golden Age. Protagonists would die, couples wouldn’t end up together and endings would be bittersweet at best. The genre is pretty much dead in the water now, aside from occasional throwbacks to it. Neo Noir, mentioned above, usually has some sort of tongue-in-cheek elements to it. Today’s film is the definitive modern example of that. Featuring dirty cops, sleazy bars, corrupt systems, lots of guns and even more whores (and whores with guns) the following film reads like a crew of writers from the Golden Age of Hollywood got drunk and came up with some Noir stories on the spot. Sin City embraces the pulpy ‘penny dreadful’ nature of Film Noir with a surprising affection for a film so dark and violent. So shall we waste no more time then?
78 – The Company of Wolves:
We’ve come to yet another fairy tale movie, although not the kind you’d be expecting. I remember what I loved about Snow White & the Huntsman was how perfectly it captured the atmosphere of a Grimm fairy tale. The reason I love this movie is because it embraces the other side of fairy tale lore. The tales as they first became known were told in the same way as urban legends: cautionary tales advising children to behave. Red Riding Hood is probably the most famous cautionary fairy tale there is. It warns young girls about the dangers of straying from the beaten path, and to be wary of strange men. And of course to be afraid of your own sexuality. In the 1980s, fledgling Irish director Neil Jordan got the idea to adapt a short story by Angela Carter that explored werewolf folklore and how it overlapped with the Red Riding Hood tale. The result is a film that’s incredibly out there, but no less fascinating to watch.
79 – Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows:
Ah, Pottermania. There was never anything else like it. I can remember far back to well before it was a thing. I remember one of my classmates in my first primary school – back when I was still living in England – saying the books were really good. I didn’t get into them until I was about ten years old. I actually read the third one first, mostly because its cover looked nicer than the other two. But by the time the fifth book came out, I was hooked. Each time the new one came out, I would practically sit in my room all day and do nothing but read. I read the fifth one in three days and the last two in one apiece. I got to have the audio books done by Stephen Fry, and there was a time when I couldn’t sleep without them in the background. But Pottermania was a cultural phenomenon, like how Star Wars swept the public back in the 70s. The films were an enormous gamble and could have been a huge disaster. But we got all eight films and a whole lot to talk about. I strongly considered not bothering including a HP film on my list – mostly because it’d be a nightmare to sort through them all. But ultimately I couldn’t ignore them. And I decided to bend the rules a little (the ones I so ardently set down when it came to franchises) and count the final two movies as one entry.
80 – Tangled:
How about that Disney thingy eh? That studio actually has a really up and down history, despite not even being a hundred years old yet. From the 1930s-1950s the Disney studio was a hit with audiences, with beloved animated films and eventually live action fare too. The name was synonymous with wholesome American whimsy. When Uncle Walt died in the 1960s, the studio fell into decline. Their films did okay but they came close to getting bankrupted from animation several times – and overall the quality of their films was viewed as a huge step down from Walt’s days. But a revival came around in the 90s; known as the ‘Disney Renaissance’, the upturn in quality catapulted the studio back to household name status. This lasted for about ten years before the public started growing sick of Disney again. Faced with competition in the form of Pixar, criticisms of their stories, and a waning interest in traditional animation, the studio once again fell into decline. So why have they made it to their fiftieth animated film in spite of all this? Well there are certain things that you can only stay mad at for so long. And Disney films fall under that umbrella. The 90s kids who grew up with the Renaissance began to look back on Disney films with a nostalgic glee – and late 2000s kids didn’t know about the void in their lives. As such, when Disney announced it was going to make animated movies again, the result was a worldwide round of applause. Their first attempt – The Princess & the Frog – didn’t do as well as they would have hoped. The second? Well let’s jump in and have a look.