5 - 1
We know, we know, this will be a very controversial choice indeed. Many will wonder why a film about video store slackers recreating movies for their devastated inventory would warrant placement here, let alone such a high ranking. Well, the answer is quite simple - this is the greatest statement about the collective cultural consciousness that resulted from the invention of the VCR ever made (may be the only one, for that matter). In fact, the entire approach to the film—fans “remembering” the movies and making them from memory—indicates the impact of home video clearer than any critical deconstruction or scholarly overview. So there.
The best movie musical of all time and a telling indictment of the moment cinema adopted sound. On the surface, we have the simple story of a leading man (the amazing Gene Kelly) who must learn the ropes of an entirely new technology while his usual co-star (the equally magnificent Jean Hagen) has “voice issues” of her own. Enter the country gal (Debbie Reynolds) who can sing and dance with the best of them, and watch as The Artist cribs most of this movie for its post-millennial Oscar win. Almost cruel in how it treats the conversion to talkies, it’s the songs that carry us through the carnage.
Right up there with the documentary How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It) , this look at Melvin Van Peebles and the start of the blaxploitation movement is a monumental achievement for both father and son. Yes, Mario saddled up to play his influential dad, describing in definitive biopic style how the making of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song both redefined and almost destroyed his career. Highlighting the horrors faced by black filmmakers in the volatile 1960s,we get the standard making-of material, along with more probing, personal angles which explain why Van Peebles as his movie are so important.
Leave it to the Coens to create the kind of motion picture mindfuck that leaves you questioning reality while illustrating the dangers of “selling out, Hollywood style”. Our hero (John Tuturro) is a faux East Coast intellectual who heads over the bright lights of Tinseltown to make some quick cash. What he discovers is a den of thieves. Some (like mogul Jack Lipnick - Michael Lerner) just want to steal his talent. Others, like gruff ‘insurance salesman’ Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) may actually want his soul. A harrowing portrait of what happens when you stop being true to yourself, this is a masterpiece of cinematic shadows and fog.
Perhaps the most telling movie about a movie, and about the movies in general, ever made. As one of the architects of the French New Waves, Francois Truffaut was always looking for ways to twist the art form into both a commentary and critique on what we expect a motion picture to be. Going even more ‘meta,’ he uses a film set and the behinds the scenes intricacies of same to blur the lines between art and artifice. While his previous films simply played with the foundations of the medium, Day for Night actually lifts the veil off the process, and in doing so, illustrates is magic, maniacal facets. Sheer genius.