Saturday, August 25, 2007

UM's "Required Cinema Screening List," and my reactions

As attentive readers know, I've recently started an M.F.A. program in film. What you guys don't know (yet) is that, as a requirement for my M.F.A. program, I'll have to take a "cinema literacy" test at the end of my two years.

I'd heard about this test, and the huge list of films it tests on, over the summer, but only yesterday did I get the actual list. It's been revised and expanded (emphasis on expanded) since last year, and now includes nearly 200 films. YIKES. That's a lot. But it's okay, because a lot of them are really good. Well, all of them are supposed to be really good, but a lot of them are things I already know and love, or in some cases, things I've been meaning to see forever.

The list includes all the usual suspects, those old films that all the straight, white, male critics of America typically revere. You know, the classics: Citizen Kane, 2001, Casablanca, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, etc.

It also includes many of those "essential" silent films that first established cinema as an art form: Grand Illusion, Un Chien Andalou, Battleship Potemkin, Metropolis, Birth of a Nation, Voyage to the Moon, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, etc. (The Passion of Joan of Arc was sadly excluded).

But what I found most interesting is which contemporary films made the cut. A mere FOUR films from the year 2000 or later managed to place. And they are:

Amores Perros (2000)
In the Mood for Love (2000)
City of God (2002)
Hero (2002)

Interesting that all four of them are foreign. I guess they figure we've all seen most of the notable American releases of the past few years. But couldn't they still have found room for, say:

Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Far From Heaven (2002)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

...and other similarly groundbreaking films of the past few years? I KNOW that not everyone in my program has seen them. But I have, so I guess it doesn't matter for me.

In fairness, there are several great films on the list that I didn't expect to find there, and others that I sort of expected to find but am nevertheless pleased to see. Some examples:

Thelma & Louise (1991)
YES. I really wasn't expecting this, so when I saw it, my heart swelled with joy.

Annie Hall (1977)
Always a good choice.

Breaking the Waves (1996)
Dancer was probably too controversial, but at least this one made it.

Singin' in the Rain (1952) and All That Jazz (1979)
The people who created the list don't seem to have much respect for musicals, but thankfully these classics made the cut.

Blue Velvet (1986)
Yay for David Lynch.

Imitation of Life (1959)
Almost every great contemporary film left out at least has a similar predecessor that made it. If they couldn't add Far From Heaven, I'm glad they added this.

The Graduate (1967)
Yay, Mike Nichols!

Do the Right Thing (1989)
There were other Spike Lee films as well, as I recall; they like him.

The Piano (1993)
Jane Campion's classic, given its due... and no Schindler's List in sight.

Who's Afraid of Roger Rabbit? (1988)
I think the only Zemeckis that made it; good choice.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)
I adore Gloria Swanson.

There were also some straight-up bizarre inclusions. For example: both All About My Mother (1999) and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) are there. The former is a given, and a great choice, but the latter? Obviously Volver is too recent for this list, but why not Law of Desire or Talk to Her instead? Or maybe they could've put only one Pedro film, and freed up space for a Haynes film? Weird. Devil in a Blue Dress (1999) also made it... to which I say, "huh?". Ditto Wallace and Gromit in the Wrong Trousers (1993).

Anyway, there are also lots of films I haven't even heard of that are there, so I probably don't know what I'm talking about. Maybe they're all good. But there are still some exclusions that are hard to fathom (no Wizard of Oz? no West Side Story? no Kaufman?).

I must say, the single best call, IMO, was Thelma & Louise. What a great choice. LOVE that movie.


Blogger John T said...

See, I would say that Women on the Verge would be one of Pedro's better films-it's an absolute riot, beautifully shot, features Carmen Maura in one of her finest roles, and is just a scrumptious demonstration of how much Pedro loves his actresses.

And ugh to Birth of a Nation being in there. Intolerance is SOOO much better.

10:08 AM  
Blogger adam k. said...

I didn't mean it as a knock on Women's quality, per se. But I just figure, All About My Mother is THE essential Pedro film, so why not just leave it at that? I didn't realize Women was considered more of a classic than Law of Desire, Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, Talk to Her, Bad Education, etc. which are all great, too.

But I guess I should just be happy that Pedro got two mentions. There are never enough gay auteurs in these kinds of lists.

And yeah, I'm no big fan of Birth of a Nation either.

11:10 PM  
Anonymous rural juror said...

Well...if you're gonna have 4 movies from this decade, those aren't bad choices.

Tell me Paris, Texas appears on this list. Tell me.

12:34 AM  
Blogger Kamikaze Camel said...

Yes, tell us that Paris, Texas was on there. That movie define essential! Well, you get the idea.

The post-2000 films are odd. I agree with In the Mood for Love and City of God but Amores Perros? PUH-LEASE! And Hero was good and all but obviously Crouching Tiger is the difinitive modern-day martial arts film, right? I would say that if any film from 2000 onwards deserves the title of "essential" it is Mulholland Drive. Even though it's one of my five favourite films ever, it really is a movie that, especially for people who enjoy and STUDY cinema, is remarkable. I've studied it before and it's amazingly easy to write 10,000 words on it.

Yay for The Piano and no Schindler's List.

Women on the Verge was nominated for the Oscar and it was his first cross-boundary success.

And, yeah, All That Jazz made me pleased as punch (being the greatest movie I've ever seen and all). You say it's a classic, but I didn't know you'd seen it? Or are you calling it a classic on reputation? Either way is a-okay!

Lastly, I reiterate the sentiments of John T up there. Sorry about you having to sit through Birth of a Nation. It's woefully prolonged experience of torture that, although cinematically and historically important, is also really boring and really labourious to sit through. Plus it's really fuckin' racist. Intolerance is better, but that's still incredibly long.

9:51 AM  
Blogger adam k. said...

Paris Texas is not on the list. And worse, I've actually never heard of it. Sorry, everyone. Care to englighten me?

Glenn, I seem to recall Amores Perros having a huge critical following when it was first out. Plus it was our introuction to Gael Garcia Bernal, who also had sex in it, so watching it again is fine by me. And frankly, if we have to have an Inarritu film, it might as well be that one. Hero is odd, though. I assume they figure we've all seen Crouching Tiger (who hasn't?) but still.

As for Mulholland, I agree that it should be on lists like these. It's obscure enough that we wouldn't have all seen it, but essential enough that we should. But they opted for Blue Velvet instead.

I'd forgotten that Women on the Verge was Pedro's first crossover hit. I guess that makes it stand out.

I'm glad you're happy about All That Jazz. Maybe they were just throwing you a bone after dismissing Mulholland. Haha. I haven't seen it, though. I'm just taking your word that it's a classic. And any great musical is a classic to me. I do find it odd, however, that they chose that one over Cabaret, The Wizard of Oz, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, etc.

The ONLY explanation I can think of for Oz's absence is that they figure everyone in the world has already seen it. And they're probably right.

And yes, I've seen Birth of a Nation and am not looking forward to sitting through it again. Typing this is making me bored already. Gah.

1:01 PM  
Blogger adam k. said...

OK slight correction, I have HEARD of Paris, Texas (now that I think of it), I just know next to nothing about it and didn't realize it was such a classic. So please don't stone me.

1:04 PM  
Anonymous rural juror said...

Paris, Texas is a Wim Wenders film (his best if you ask me) and is quite amazing. I realize that this is a lot of build up which I don't want to do too much in case you do see it.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Kamikaze Camel said...

While many would say they prefer Cabaret, West Side Story, The Wizard of Oz I think in terms of pure cinematic experience All That Jazz is unlike any other. Fosse totally recreates the musical genre and in the process makes his own 8 1/2 (autobiographical of sorts). The way it's edited (that opening "On Broadway" sequence is frequently used as an example of the finest editing work of all time, just fyi) and shot and framed and everything.

Even if it weren't my favourite, I'd still say that as a FILM STUDENT it's more valuable a film than Cabaret or West Side Story, which are still incredibly well made and entertaining, but won't change the way you view films or your interpretation of them as all the other titles you mentioned do (for the most part).

I still don't get Amorest Perros being there though. If they want you to experience multi-narrative time-swapping films why not something like Pulp Fiction? Hmmm.

2:54 AM  
Blogger John T said...

I would imagine that, though Paris Texas could be on the list, they'd go with the more famous and traditional (in the sense of making lists, not in the sense of the film), Wings of Desire, which is also wonderful and magical.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Adam Luis said...

Would you mind e-mailing me that list? Thanks!

1:38 PM  
Anonymous rural juror said...

ok...I just saw The Best of Youth, and that really belongs on such a list. To me, a movie really needs to justify a running length more than 2.5 hours. Any movie that can make 6 hours fly by and leave you wanting more is an achievement.

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Benigno Martín said...

Wow, there is no limit to Camel's ignorance and immaturity.

Any true ciniphile should know why Women on the Verge, Amores Perros, and Un Chien Andalou made the list. The former introduced Almodovar to the world. Amores was successful at the international level but is also considered a major catalyst for Mexican and Latin American Cinema. Many Latin American filmmakers consider Amores a kind of rebirth of Latin cinema.

I don't expect non-Latin people to appreciate this, but, as a Spaniard, I enjoy and follow Spanish and Latin American Cinema.

3:06 PM  
Blogger adam k. said...

Wow, this list is bringing comments outta the woodwork.

Good point, Benigno, on Amores Perros being the first of this new surge of Latin American cinema. Now, of course, we have Cuaron, Mereilles, Del Toro, etc. but Amores Perros started it all. Though there's no need to call Glenn immature.

Adam L, is there a particular thing you'd like to see on the list? Or some particular reason you need the whole thing? Cause I could theoretically Email it to you, but it'd mean typing all 200 titles into a word document (since I only have a hard copy), and I'd rather not do that, if I can help it...

6:05 PM  
Blogger Kamikaze Camel said...

How am I ignorant and immature for a) not particularly liking Amores Perros enough to say it's essential to film viewers and b) not know it's relevence to Spanish speaking filmmakers?

Hi! I'm neither Spanish or Mexican or Latin of any origin nor do I live on a the same continent as a Latin speaking nation, nor does my country of origin even have a large number of people of Latin origin. But thanks for your kind words.

But I wouldn't use such words as "ignorant" towards you because you didn't know that, would I?

3:56 AM  

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